Managing Your Stress

What kind of thing is stress, that it is so readily recognized, yet managed with such difficulty? A short definition would state that stress is our internal response to the short or long-term life events, or situations, that wrap around us. Interestingly, our initial response seems hard-wired, the well-known “fight or flight syndrome”. This response, originating in the nervous system and hormone producing glands, causes body reactions without our active thoughts being involved, namely: increased blood pressure, heart rate, heart contraction, muscular strength, mental activity, metabolic rate, and blood flow to active muscles, accompanied by dilated pupils, and bronchial tubes, release of glucose from the liver, and a corresponding decrease in blood flow to areas not needed for emergency, such as kidneys and intestines. This body reaction is caused by electrical signals coming from the nervous system which cause certain glands to increase their hormone output, which in turn results in the glucose release into the blood stream that powers the extra muscular strength needed to flee or face danger. One factor which can dilute our ability to process and manage stress is also a motivator of the “flight” response- fear. Through implicit or explicit choices to distrust God, people may let fear master them- fear of monetary loss, fear for one’s safety or that of family, fear of other’s seeming power over the life, and countless other fears. To counteract this, we need to become familiar with Scriptures, such as Isaiah 41:10, which reads, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” With such a mighty Helper, if we choose to accept this as truth, fear takes flight.

This wonderful stress response mechanism, so helpful in short term emergencies, is actually harmful if not intentionally and purposefully managed by the exercise of the will. The power of the response, if allowed to become chronic, turns inward and begins to damage body systems. The mind itself determines whether our stress system malfunctions, and stays “on”. What body damage can that “on” response cause? Think of the elevation in blood sugar, which can end in diabetes. Unmanaged diabetes can have many serious results, such as amputations, heart attacks, blindness, strokes, and kidney failure. While stress is not the sole cause for diabetes, it is a serious one. It seems evident that we need to enlist the will to help combat this disease. According to one author, if the will is “kept awake and rightly directed…, it will impart energy to the whole being and will be a wonderful aid in the maintenance of health. It is a power also in dealing with disease.”1 The ability to choose is the active principle of the power of the will. You can choose to remember Bible promises; you can choose to go help a neighbor instead of clinging to negative interpretations of life; you can choose to work in the yard. All these activities and many like them impart physical and mental energy to the being.

If we need the will, how can we strengthen its ability in the right direction? One well-known author states a few life habits you can develop:

  • Practice deciding things, and stick with the decision.
  • Finish one job before starting another.
  • Do something disagreeable every day that really needs doing.
  • Get up when you wake up.
  • Read, and study over what you read so you can retain it.
  • Practice healthful living, such as proper nutrition, exercise regularly, and rest well.
  • Suppress impulsiveness; make plans, submit them to God, and follow them.2

One hormone that helps us deal with immediate stressors (those life events that cause stress) is cortisol. When stress is permitted to become chronic, however, it can cause both psychological and physical damage. Amazingly, it can contribute to the development of mental confusion, or dementia, an increase in obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia, depression, anxiety, and even shrinkage of the brain. Dr. Nedley states that high levels of cortisol can even become a cause of peptic ulcer disease, hypertension, malnutrition, chronic active alcoholism, cancer, and other disease processes.3

Managing your stress becomes a delicate balancing act between being active in your life, and choosing activities that will strengthen you mentally, spiritually and physically. Proper plant-based nutrition powerfully aids the body by increasing energy levels, which can also aid mental acuteness. Regular physical exercise helps protect you against stress by elevating the effectiveness of the immune system, and it also helps ward off some of those earlier mentioned serious side-effects of stress, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, which tend to become chronic, debilitating, and life-draining. Purposeful exercise, such as chopping wood, gardening, raking leaves, engages the mind, distracting thoughts of the unwanted stresses parading into your life. Walking is a wonderful, relaxing exercise, although it may not be as immediately effective at warding off stressful thoughts.

Another habit you can change to help handle stress is eliminating all caffeine-containing products from your diet. Caffeine increases stress hormones, making stress harder to manage. Caffeine is a causative agent of restlessness, nervousness, excitation, excess or frequent urination, gastric disturbances, cardiac arrhythmias, and other symptoms of decreased mental and body functions.

In addition, there is a mental habit that is now being recognized as vitally important to the healing of both mind and body, and that is the decision to extend forgiveness to those we perceive as having harmed us. It is astonishing to realize that holding onto negative, gloom producing past experiences can actually destroy body cells. Certain neurotransmitters are produced by cheerful thinking, and the same is true of angry, gloomy thinking. This causes the toxicity that is destructive. We can choose to forgive, which relieves our mental burden and produces a healing atmosphere.

God, though invisible to us, is real, loving, and powerful enough to help us. Choosing to believe that fact will create a life of restfulness rather than overpowering stress. You may have no particular ecstatic feeling, but you can choose to have a peaceful trust. Your hope is “not in yourself; it is in Christ. Your weakness is united to His strength, your ignorance to His wisdom, your frailty to His enduring might. So you are not to look to yourself…but look to Christ. Let the mind dwell upon His love, upon the beauty and perfection of His character.” 4. What does this have to do with stress? Much. Exodus 15:26 assures us that He is the Lord, the healer, and healing is the opposite of unmanaged stress.

A Pattern Health Retreat
Staff Writer


  1. White, Ellen, The Ministry of Healing, p. 246.
  2. Chalmers, Eldon, Healing the Broken Brain, pp. 24-25.
  3. Nedley, Neil, Depression, the way out, p. 130.
  4. White, Ellen, Steps to Christ, p.70.