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Stress: the silent killer of dreams

Symptoms of Stress

When we are stressed, we are tempted to engage in coping mechanisms which seem harmless enough, but which can eventually spiral into bad habits with deleterious effects. For example, smoking, drinking, comfort eating or bingeing. Coping mechanisms may appear positive, but when taken to an extreme, they can take over our lives and we lose agency over our lives e.g. exercising or workaholism. It’s not always obvious that chronic stress may lead to addiction.

It’s a little known fact that heavy reliance on pharmaceutical medication can cause bodily stress. The body’s immune system attempts to eliminate foreign chemicals which it does not recognise. It’s felt as ‘side effects’ – a misnomer because they can be quite damaging to the body, and not at all minor as the term suggests.

We live in a fenetic age where being busy for the sake of being busy is seen as a virtue. The human mind was not designed to be constantly pre-occupied, and the human body to be constantly on the go. Cortisol is not your friend. The release of cortisol in the body was always meant to be short-term to enable us to deal with short-term stressors. In the long-term, when constantly released with no let-up, it can wreak significant damage on the human body and mind.

Sabbath Rest – the perfect panacea

God gave us a gift called the Sabbath. It is an essential component of mental and physical renewal. After working 6 days, on the seventh day, we were designed for rest. Jesus stated that, “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus did allow for exceptions such as if an emergency arose the example being an owner’s need to rescue its animal if it fell into a ditch on the sabbath.

Pro bono

It is not a divine requirement but a divine gift for our benefit. The seventh day is often regarded as the day to complete work not accomplished in the working week. Seven is the biblical number of completion, and the seventh day brings the whole week into balance. It allows us to reflect on the past six days and gain a better perspective of what we need to focus on in the week ahead. It inspires us to refocus our minds on what’s going on inside of us rather than the external demands and activities.

Faith – the antithesis of stress

Observing the Sabbath requires faith – faith that God will provide for us on the Sabbath day just as much as on the previous six days. He did so for the Israelites in the wilderness. They were told not to gather manna and quail on the 7th day, but to gather sufficient for two days on the 6th . For those who lacked faith and disobeyed, the food that was gathered on the Sabbath, was not fit for human consumption so all their energies were wasted.The sixth day is known as the Day of Preparation when we are meant to consciously prepare for the sabbath.

We must have faith that a solution to every problem will be solved  even if we are not pre-occupied with it on the Sabbath. It takes discipline to switch off one’s logical mind on the Sabbath. Proverbs instructs us to, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) When we are tempted to worry on the Sabbath, we can meditate on this scripture or make the affirmation ‘I refuse to worry about this problem because I trust God is bringing the answer , and it will arrive in just the nick of time.’

On the Sabbath, the housekeeper must believe that one less day of cleaning will not a dirty house make. There may be an irrational fear that the dust will become overwhelming. The businessman must believe that he is not going to lose out on some amazing business deal which will warrant his attention on the Sabbath.

God set an example for us by creating everything in 6 days and resting on the 7th. This is a pattern which he set for us because He does not grow tired as we do.

The body and mind are linked. Stress may be felt as a persistent feeling of overwhelm, inability to relax or enjoy moments of relaxation; restlessness or insomnia. These behaviours do not make for a good quality of life. People who live in this state for too long may find themselves engaging in suicide ideation. Their minds may reason that the only way of finding peace is to end their lives.

One could be tempted to interpret work as solely efforts which generate an income, and so justify activities such as housework, gardening or sports training on the Sabbath. There is a danger of becoming legalistic and feeling guilty if we don’t observe the Sabbath. The definitive question is whether or not it is being done just for pleasure.  Another relevant question is whether it is time-driven. The Sabbath is a good day to take off your watch or switch off your mobile phone, and let the day unfold in its own way.

If we choose to reuse this gift, and treat it is surplus to requirement, we are the ones who will suffer the consequences. The number of our sick days may well multiply. We will lack the fortitude to go after our dreams. To chase and fulfil a dream, requires faith and much effort. Little by little, stress will steal our strength and time, and before our dreams come to fruition, we could run out of both. We need the faith to rest on the day of rest and trust that God will provide for our every need because “While we wait, God is active.”

Antidotes to stress: did you know that walking barefoot (earthing), birdwatching in nature, group singing and being close to a body of water – all help to lower stress levels?

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