How Can We Learn To Live With Stress?
by Aryanto Wijaya, Indonesia. Originally written in Bahasa Indonesia
Sometime last year, I had a prolonged digestive issue. For two months, my stomach became really bloated. Whenever I tapped my hands slowly across it, it would make a strange, hollow sound. Not willing to Google the symptoms and end up with inaccurate info, I immediately scheduled an appointment with a doctor the next morning.
I have a history of digestive problems. A year ago, I had gone to see a doctor about the same problem and was advised to exercise more. But when I went for a treatment this time, the doctor (a different one) gave me a shocking diagnosis.
After doing an ultrasound check on my stomach, the doctor told me that I had Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, more popularly known as GERD. This meant that my stomach was producing too much acid, which was making its way up the oesophagus and reaching the throat. If left untreated, it could be fatal.
“You’re still up to be around a lot longer, eh?” teased the doctor, smiling.
I knew she was just teasing, but somehow, I felt compelled to answer. “Well, of course! I haven’t even gotten married yet, so I’m not ready to check out, haha!”
Silently, I asked myself: I’m still so young, how can I have this disease?
After the doctor’s visit, I kept to a strict diet for six months. I had to undergo a major lifestyle change, which was not easy, and I often fell off the wagon. Even as I exercised more, cut back on fried foods, tried to get enough sleep, the hardest part was changing the way I handled stress.
A stress-free life is impossible
During my frequent visits to the doctor, she told me that one of the things that contributed to my digestive problems was the mishandling of stress. Unhealthy eating habits and irregular sleep patterns only added to the cause and made things a lot worse.
The thing is, I’m an introvert, but due to the nature of my work, I often have to go out and meet people. Whenever pressures—from work, conflict with colleagues, financial burden, or family problems—come along, I would overthink them. I would spend hours staring desolately out the window, imagining all the ways things could get worse. This would go on for days on end, and I would get trapped in this never-ending vortex of worry.
In the book Filosofi Teras (Essential Philosophy), Dr. Andri, a psychiatrist, reveals that what is happening in our minds can influence our bodies. This is why when someone feels tense or panicky, his body will shake and break out in a sweat. As the researcher and doctor Hans Selye says: “It’s not the stress that kills us, but our reactions to it.”
So, we need to learn to shift our focus, so that even though these burdens don’t disappear, we can learn to handle stress correctly.
The sure way that our Saviour offers
The field of human psychology is so advanced now that we can find many answers for these dark thoughts and burdens that we struggle with. But, as Christians, let us not forget that the Scripture also provides answers that we need.
Verses in the Scripture are not mantras that will magically turn our situation around when we utter them, but because the Scripture is inspired by God Himself, we can receive, understand, and apply it to change our lives (2 Timothy 3:16; James 1:22).
The Scripture sees fear, stress, or depression as natural responses to life’s troubles. In the Bible, we see how people struggled with life’s burdens:
- The psalmist cried out to the Lord: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2).
- Job, who did not know whether his suffering and pain would go away.
- Ruth, who after her husband died, had to choose which way to live.
- And of course, Jesus, who became human and went through terrible agony. Matthew 26 recorded Jesus saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (verse 38), and when He prayed, His sweat became droplets of blood (Luke 22:44).
The crucial part is, how do we respond to the stressors of daily life?
The world offers a myriad of solutions to stress–a short getaway, eating a lot of food to numb ourselves, or turning to drugs or alcohol. These are temporary solutions, and we will go back to wallowing in despair as soon as the fun ends.
Which is why we are called to not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what is good and acceptable (Romans 12:2).
First, instead of trying to avoid trouble and distract ourselves from stress, we can acknowledge our stress and bring it to God, because He listens to all our prayers (John 16:23).
God does not look down on His children’s cries for help. Jesus has shown us how, during the darkest time in His life (Matthew 26:39, 42), when His disciples could not even be counted on to stay awake, God was still there.
Secondly, God has promised that He will be with us always (Matthew 28:20) and will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). This does not mean our life will be free of struggles, but He will strengthen us so that we can handle them (Philippians 4:13). In faith we know that these difficulties will work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).
Thirdly, to embrace our vulnerability is a way to become strong. In my case, instead of thinking about those problems over and over on my own, I am learning to offer them to God in prayer. I know I can also ask for help from people who are close to me, or even a mental health professional. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is the sign that we, as humans created by God, are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
There is a hymn that really blesses me. As the lyrics go:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
Whenever I sing this song, I can feel all my worries and anxieties melting away in the light of His grace and glory. I hope looking to Jesus can do the same for you.
Hi Aryanto! Thank for you this article, it has really blessed me especially as the world faces its 3rd year of the pandemic and all its implications.