“Still so many new people to meet… and this mountain of homework to do… stuff is crazy back home, but I still kind of want to be there for it… I think they like me here…hopefully… that big presentation is due Monday…and exams are just around the corner…”
Maybe, maybe not. But whether that list got to you or not, I’m sure you can imagine some situation that would get your heart rate up, speed up your breathing, maybe make your palms a little sweaty and your hands a little jittery, making it hard to focus on one thing for very long. Along with lots of other descriptions, this is often referred to as “being stressed”, and if you’re human like me, it’s a pretty normal experience.
Here’s where things get interesting.
A quick Google search or asking for advice from a friend may give you a whole list of things to do to get rid of or reduce your stress. Sound nice? Maybe you’ve even been the one offering the list. And truthfully, in the moment it feels good and it seems like the sensible thing to do: help alleviate peoples’ stress, or find ways to manage your own stress. That is, until you come to grips with this simple truth:
You only experience stress when you care.
So the answer is really quite simple: If you want to stop feeling stress, or stop others from getting stressed, stop caring. I mean, when you really stop to think about it, when was the last time you got stressed about something you didn’t care about? Exams, peoples’ feelings, global warming, refugee admission policies, sex trafficking, the ingredients in those deliciously deep fried fries that look suspiciously the same after living in your friend’s car for three months… the only things that get a rise out of you are the ones you care about, and you’re generally not stressed by the ones you don’t care about.
Unfortunately, apathy isn’t on the list of character traits that we typically praise in others, or intentionally grow in ourselves. Imagine if Jesus had said, “You know what Dad? This whole incarnation thing is going to be far too stressful for me. How about we just ease up on the compassion and let them deal with it.” Thankfully, Jesus chose a different way to handle his stress. A better way. A way that we can choose too.
According to a whole bunch of research (that is conveniently put into an entertaining TED talk by Kelly McGonigal called How to Make Stress Your Friend), how your body acts when you are “stressed” is actually a good and healthy thing. The sweat, the blood, the tension, the dilated pupils… it’s all good!
Oddly enough, the only part of stress that can be bad for you is believing that it is bad for you.
Ya, you probably read that right, but maybe read it again anyways, just to make sure. Bizzare, right! The dangerous part of stress is what you believe about it!
It turns out that what your body is actually doing is getting ready to face whatever it is that you are caring about. Your senses are heightened. Your game face is on. You are preparing to engage. And it’s that perspective change that can make all the difference.
Instead of running from stress, try to use it. Harness it!
Instead of viewing stress as something that gets in your way, try seeing it as something that enables you to fully engage.
It literally changes from being harmful to being helpful. And that’s not even the end of the good news.
There’s no denying that stress, whether you view it as helpful or harmful, takes a toll on you. Any way you look at it, it’s exhausting. After all, on a very basic level, it is using up a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy. So what’s the good news?
Ironically, one of the best ways to recover from stress is to care for others.
Shifting our focus from ourselves to others and engaging with compassion and empathy allows our bodies to both heal and develop resilience.
It’s like God designed us with this feature where our bodies automatically respond to things we care about by rising to the challenge, and then in order to recover from that rise, we need to care about someone else’s needs, which restarts the cycle! Where it breaks down is when we either interrupt the cycle by not caring, or when the caring never reaches beyond ourselves to others. Essentially, stress becomes unhealthy when it becomes all about ourselves.
So what now?
- Go care. Justice, family, food, clothing, exams, friends, papers, classes… they matter. Stuff happens when people care. Learn, invest, sacrifice, commit.
- Get a little stressed. You probably won’t have to try too hard at this one… it will just happen!
- Thank God for stress. He made you to be able to rise to the occasion.
- Take care of yourself by caring for others. It’s the best thing you can do for them. It’s the best thing you can do for you. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14) Win-win!
Matt Kliever is the Quest Program Associate. Matt grew up as a prairie farm-boy, but spending a year in the Adirondacks of New York allowed him to experience first-hand the discipleship opportunities made possible by mountains. Since then, he and his wife Koty have moved to Abbotsford to raise a family (two kids so far!) and to help facilitate adventure-filled years of discipleship for others. One of his biggest passions in life is helping people shape their identity as a follower of Christ so they can live lives of freedom and fulfillment.