Stress, Health, and The Bible

What Stress Is

Manholding head - in painBoth medical and mental health experts agree that stress is one of the primary underlying factors contributing to many of the physical and mental illnesses affecting people’s lives today. For example, ongoing chronic stress has been linked to weakened immune system resulting in many types of infectious diseases. Some researchers believe that chronic stress may also increase the risk of developing anxiety, depression and even some forms of cancer or the progression of cancer. Given such information, we need to pay careful attention to the levels of stress we experience on a day-to-day basis.

When most people think of stress they usually associate it with people with positions of great responsibilities having tight and busy schedules.  While these factors undoubtedly are involved in the dynamics of stress, they do not define what stress is. In fact, stress is not something external to you. Rather, it is the emotional and physiological reactions you experienced when you confront the demands of a situation (real or imagined) that you perceive goes beyond your coping resources.

When an individual perceives a stressor, his or her nervous system becomes activated and organs of the body are stimulated to change their normal activities. For example, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, blood vessels constrict, blood sugar rises, air passage dilate allowing more air to enter the lungs and the list goes on. All these happen so the body can be prepared to deal with the stressor. But imagine what will happen to your body and its organ systems if such stressful experiences were to continue and become chronic.

Life Stressors

These real or imagined situations that you react to are called stressors. Stressors may be good or bad and may come in many forms such as:

Manholding head - in pain

As can be observed from the short list above, it is practically impossible to live a life free of some form of stressor. But as been noted above, it is not so much the stressor but our interpretation and reaction to it that determines the degree of tension or stress we experience in our body and mind.

The Bible’s Solution for Managing Stress

Manholding head - in pain The subject of stress is not only of concern to medical and mental health professionals. Interestingly, it is also of concern to God as it applies to the health and well-being of his people. God is concerned because high levels of ongoing chronic stress in our lives can affect us emotionally, socially, physically, relationally and spiritually. Overwhelming and chronic stress can hamper concentration, memory, and organization of thoughts required for important spiritual and life tasks.

When we are stressed we tend to become nervous, impatient, easily agitated, angered, discouraged and depressed. Furthermore, our behaviour becomes inconsistent, our interest and motivation in important things may fluctuate and optimism for life may decrease.

The scriptures contain many principles regarding the management of stress, but for brevity only three will be highlighted here.

Woman relaxing on hill otdoorsPrinciple 1: In his own words, Jesus warns that we should not be overly concerned or be given to worry over future uncertainties (Matthew 6:34). While we must commit ourselves to careful planning for tomorrow, we should not become overly stressed due to worrying about the uncertainties that the future may bring or the variables that may change. If we trust in him, he promised to take care of conditions that fall outside our control.

Principle 2:
The second principle has to do with how we handle current problems. This principle tells us to cast our burdens or cares on the Lord and he will uphold us. While this does not negate our human responsibilities in planning and decision-making, it does tell us that we need not become overwhelmed with the burdens of life while our God stands ready to help us.

Principle 3: The final principle has to do with our current mood of being or our approach to life’s situations. The scripture tells us that having a cheerful heart can be as good and effective on our health and well-being as medicine (Proverbs 17: 22).

The more optimistic and happy we are about life the less stress we will experience. Together, these three biblical principles cover the three domains of life that affect us: future uncertainties, handling current situations, and our own mood or state of being in approaching life’s problems.