Christmas Craziness? – The Benefits of Looking for Meaning and Purpose

Goofy Christmas Donkeywith a string of Christmas lights hanging from his antler hat.

When I was growing up it seemed Christmas started out long and slow. Lots of lights, Christmas music, happy faces, anticipation of presents, and seeing family we only saw on holidays all against the backdrop of the beautiful peaceful awe inspiring story of Christ’s birth.

Now it’s more planning work around rushed trips to family gatherings, somewhat strained conversations about who we have to get gifts for and hoping for decent ideas about what to get.

Then there is the getting part, the looking, the driving, the anxiety as the totals rise. And somewhere nearly lost in the hustle and bustle there is this little nagging thought that maybe it just isn’t worth it, maybe we are missing the point but we keep rushing forward because we don’t want to disappoint someone or miss out on something or or or or.

While the times and cultures are drastically different I suspect people haven’t changed that much. “…a woman named Martha opened her home to him (Jesus)…But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made…” (Luke 10:38&40 NIV) Sound familiar?

Now consider Christ’s response when Martha complained to Jesus that her sister Mary wasn’t being fair by letting her do all the work.

“”Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41 & 42 NIV)

It’s kind of crazy but Christmas is often both the most hurried distracted and most meaningful inspiring time of year. But we often miss the meaningful and inspired in the middle of the hurried and worried which multiples our stress.

I doubt Christ was thinking primarily about stress relief when He so clearly pointed out the difference between the good (hurrying to prepare food and hospitality for Christ Himself!) and the better or needed (taking time to be with Christ and listen to Him).

However, as it turns out, there is scientific evidence that suggests that looking for and taking time for things that are deeply meaningful and fit a sense of purpose for your life can make you healthier, live longer, and make you stronger in the face of stress.

Patrick Hill professor of psychology and associates examined questions answered by over 6000 people. 14 years after the questions were asked, he discovered that people with a sense of purpose had a 15% lower chance of death when compared to those who indicated they were more or less aimless in life.

His study considered other known contributing factors that effect life span such as age, gender, and emotional well being. It turns out a sense of purpose had a greater effect on life expectancy than any of those!

Interestingly the age at which a person found their direction or purpose didn’t change the positive effect on their risk of death. It really is never too late to start doing better!

In a separate study Anthony Burrow of Cornell University had students write for 10 minutes before being placed in a known stress triggering situation. One group wrote on the direction of their life and the other on the last movie they saw.

The movie group students responded with the expected level of stress when surrounded on a bus by people of a different ethnicity. The life direction students, however showed no signs of increased stress at all when also surrounded by people of a different ethnicity on the bus they were riding.

As Christians we have a built in purpose to connect with God and allow Christ to live in and through us to express His love and care to others. Of course God calls us to different methods and situations to be conduits for His love, care and wisdom but we are all privileged to be part of the same eternal mission.

Christmas offers a unique opportunity to rediscover for ourselves God’s amazing gift and share our awe and gratitude for what God has done for us with others.

Taking time to remember the true meaning of Christmas and the real reason we have to celebrate can help us fulfill a small part of our purpose and make the business of Christmas less stressful.

How can you keep yourself remembering what Christ has given you and look for ways to share that gift with others this Christmas? Share your ideas below!

Steven

Studies reference link: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/07/28/334447274/people-who-feel-they-have-a-purpose-in-life-live-longer

Feeling Crazy Trying to Make Everyone Happy this Holiday? – One Way Let Go of the Stress.

Christmas stress - busy santa womanAs Christians, most of us believe we should be nice and try to make everyone happy.  While that can make us great hosts and hostesses those beliefs can create a huge amount of stress for us especially during the holidays.

Whether it is trying to get the perfect turkey or finding that just right gift, all the hurry and worry to make others joyful and happy can be draining and overwhelming for us.

As we contemplate the deeper meanings of Thanksgiving and soon Christmas, accepting Christ’s example as ours can help us find peace beyond the worry and hurry.

As Christ describes the new earth it is clear that part of His goal is that EVERYONE be happy and healthy.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 NIV

However, that isn’t happening now and it hasn’t for nearly all of recorded history.  So here is a way to think about that belief that we should make everyone happy – God Himself has been working toward that goal for about 6000 years and still has not achieved it yet!  Why should you and I feel bad if we don’t achieve it in the middle of a hectic holiday season?

Believing and feeling we must make everyone (or even one specific person) happy is really like saying we must fly to Mars and if we can’t we are terrible failures.  If God hasn’t done it in 6000 years, what makes us think we can do it in 3 weeks?

Our job is simply to ask God for His guidance and spirit as we do our best to show those we care about God’s love…that’s it.  Relax. The results are up to God.

What do you think would improve most if you let go of the belief that it’s your job to make others happy?

Trust God But Still Stressed? Here’s why.

Have you ever found yourself in difficult circumstances and believing God will help you through but still feeling anxious and stressed? Have you ever noticed yourself doubting God’s promises even though you believe His word and know He is a God who keeps His promises?

Here is why you most likely feel that way and what might lead to the best solution.

Christ designed us with three interconnected parts or aspects commonly called: Mind Body and Spirit. He designed all three parts to work in harmony and result in a complete healthy unique expression of His infinite character.

When any one of those parts is out of balance with the others or functioning poorly it effects the other two.

The primary foundation for Christians to restore the proper balance and function of all three parts is our living growing friendship with Christ Himself. He designed it to fulfill the spiritual part of our being and influence the other two parts, our mind and body. I refer to this part of our being as Faith because faith is the aspect of our spirit that most clearly effects our emotions of peace, confidence, and the felt sense of relaxation IE reduced stress.

mind-body-faith-stool

While it is clear that what we believe does influence how we feel, how we feel (mostly in our body), can also influence what we believe. For example, most of us know that generally roller coasters are safe and the statistical facts demonstrate they are. For example in 2011 people took approximately 1.7 Billion rides on roller coasters throughout America with a .00008% chance of injury or death (1). By comparison 7800 people died in vehicle accidents in 2014 which means you have over a 550% greater chance of dying in your Kia than on the Kingda Ka super roller coaster (2).

You might feel OK while waiting in line to ride Kingda Ka at Six Flags New Jersey but often when you actually get on the ride and suddenly realize you are going faster than you expected and diving, twisting and turning more than you anticipated, you start to feel fear. You might start reviewing all the news stories you have ever heard about accidents on roller coasters. You forget all you know about how safe roller coasters are and start feeling scared maybe even terrified.

Why is that? Your head knows you are safe but roller coasters (especially the big thrill ones like Leviathan – Toranto Canada) are designed to trigger your body’s feeling of fear. The sensation of free fall, the feeling of extreme speed with sudden unexpected turns and even upside down twists where you face the ground speeding up toward you at 70 + MPH. All of those physical and visual cues are designed to trigger your body into feeling as though you are in danger of dying – in a big crash. That’s the thrill. But it is basically just body sensations being triggered to such an intense level they override what you know to be true.

Our felt sense of faith works in a similar way. We can know and believe the Faith facts of God’s promises to supply all our needs, to never leave us, and protect us but when we end up in a situation that feels out of control, that mentally looks like disaster is looming ahead, we tend to forget the facts of Faith and believe the feeling sensations of impending doom that seem so very real.

This, in my opinion, is the biggest reason Christians can still be terribly anxious and stressed while at the same time believing God’s word, praying regularly, and trusting He is a God who keeps His word.

It is because of this Mind Body Faith interaction that I believe mind body methods such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) can be so incredibly helpful both in reducing stress and increasing your felt sense of faith. EFT essentially helps you dial down the felt sensations of danger or fear so your feelings are not so powerful they easily override the Faith facts you know to be true. When a person gets to a point of having an unshakable felt sense of God’s love, protection and blessings despite any and all circumstances then there should be no reason to feel stressed, ever. (I am still working toward that myself.)

God has been and always will be faithful, we just need to get our feelings to line up with the facts.  Developing a felt agreement between what you know is true and what you feel is true is what Mind Body Faith is all about.

What has been your biggest struggle between what you know by faith is true and how you feel?  What has helped you the most to develop agreement between the truth you know and the feelings you experience?

(1) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/22/roller-coaster-death/2574425/

(2) http://www.livescience.com/3780-odds-dying.html#transportation

One Step to Breaking Hazardous Stress Habits

Routine StressMaybe you have had something like this happen to you.

I had just come back 3 days earlier from nearly a week on the California coast for a vacation training.  The training was fun and the schedule left several hours each day for enjoying the beautiful campus and watching the water.  My wife and I spent much of the time exploring the majestic coastline and soaking up the sound of crashing waves and the cool caress of the wind.  We were happy, relaxed, and peaceful but as I was making my 10 min ride to work Monday morning I felt that relaxed peacefulness start to slip away and be replaced by a familiar feeling, stress.

I began thinking about all I needed to do and the limited time I had to get it done and started to feel rushed, anxious and in a hurry before I even reached the entrance.  What struck me was the great contrast between my earlier relaxed, inspired sense of possibility and the dark tension that seemed to be creeping over me….but what was really weird was that the anxious tension felt so familiar, almost like coming home.  That is when I was reminded of a lesson I had learned years ago.  We think, feel, and live in habits.

If you notice a repeated situation where you usually feel stressed, you probably have a stress habit too.  One of the easiest ways to notice a stress habit is catching yourself saying something like:

Here we go again… Let the craziness begin!

I just knew he was going to be there… I already know how this is going to go – badly!

How am I doing?….It’s Monday…how do you think?

Another 5 page form to fill out?  I’ll never get caught up!

You might notice your stress habit starting to kick in on your way to work, or maybe on your way home (especially if you have a pile of laundry and 3 hungry kids waiting).  Often stress habits trigger tightness, tension and sometimes pain in different parts of your body like your neck, shoulders, stomach, etc.

At this point you might be saying…OK OK I do see a pattern to my stress but how is recognizing it going fix it???  Great question!

Recognizing the pattern or habit of your stress can be helpful because it can let you know when to do something to interrupt your habit – a pattern interrupt.  Practicing pattern interrupts regularly can be a big step toward breaking your stress habit.

Here are three to try:

Pray – (not-  “God please make her sick so I just don’t have to deal with her again today”) that God give you peace and joy, that He show you how He is working in your life right now.

Sing, out loud is better but even in your head is OK (and a more coworker friendly option if you have a voice like mine 🙂 ) Sing hymns or other praise songs.

Use Easy Tap For Anxiety Relief for 5-10 min during your drive to work, in the restroom during a break, or in your office (if you just don’t care people think you are crazy!).  Click here for a short video demonstrating the method.  (You might remember the method from a special guide you got when you first signed up with The Stress Relief Coach)  The more you use it the better it works!

When to use your pattern interrupt is very important.  Use it as quickly as possible when you first notice your stress habit starting up again.  Even better, start the pattern interrupt just before your stress habit starts taking effect – you probably can predict it pretty accurately once you start recognizing the habit.

While recognizing your stress habits and developing a new pattern interrupt habit can make a big difference in your stress, keep checking back for options to supercharge your stress relief even more completely and permanently.

May you live freed from stress freed for a life that matters, eternally!

Keeping Your Cool Dealing With Angry Difficult People

Angry Woman PicMy goal is to provide the most useful and relevant information I can to you and my other readers. Here is my response to one reader’s question.

His question asked about how to deal with unstable and verbally abusive people. Most certainly those kinds of people are often a trigger for stress….so how to handle interacting with them in a way that honors God and reduces your stress??

While there are a few mindsets and practices that can be helpful, here are two that I believe are the most powerful.

First is a helpful mindset or mental perspective about interactions with angry hostile people. Their response to you is about them, not you. It is very likely they were unstable angry, hostile type people before you met them and they will most likely continue being so long after your last conversation with them. So don’t take their angry, hurtful demeaning disrespectful attitude personally. Sadly they have been and will likely continue to be profoundly unhappy people. But despite what they may be saying to you, you did not create their original unhappiness and nor will you be the last person they believe to have caused their current unhappiness.

I know this may seem a bit crude but this illustration makes the situation clear. Imagine what your response might be to someone when you have to pee so bad you are starting to fear an embarrassing leak or a burst bladder. The other person could be very polite, engaging, and kind but if they are not assisting you immediately to the restroom, it is likely your reaction to them will be less than polite. At best you might ignore them or worse yell something like “Get me to the bathroom or shut up!!” Was your response to them due to them being rude or a terrible human being? Of course not. Your response was driven by a deep internal need to fix a very urgent problem …. pee before you embarrass yourself!

Chronically angry people have a constant internal feeling of having an urgent need that must be fixed now. Usually the source of that feeling is not completely clear to them so they identify any immediate issue around them that might be irritating them and blame it on that problem. If you are in any way connected to the identified cause of their current discomfort, you are most likely going to be the receiver of their felt distress. It is not about you.

The Bible offers some really awesome advice about dealing with angry distraught people. “A gentle answer turns away rage, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1 GW) The first obvious way to use this, is simply to talk softer. If you are talking in such a soft tone that the other person has to quiet their voice to hear you, you are already contributing to a calmer conversation.

Another great way to use the gentle answer principle is to simply reflect back to the angry person the emotional essence of what they are saying. The goal is for them to feel truly deeply heard and understood.

Example:

Angry Person: “You must not be paying attention. I ordered 3 hamburgers and you gave me one! I’m trying to feed hungry kids at home and you made two of them wait just because you are too stupid to count!”

You: “I’m sorry ** your kids didn’t get their hamburgers. They must be starving! Can you please give me the receipt so I can confirm what you ordered and get it to you as quickly as possible.”

The statements “your kids didn’t get their hamburgers”, “they must be starving”, and “get it to you as quickly as possible” reflect back to the angry person that you really heard their distress and that you are taking it seriously enough to try to help solve their problem.

** “I’m sorry..” is not a reflection but an apology that fits well with the “gentle answer” approach. It costs you absolutely nothing, and it is a very powerful way to help an upset person calm themselves. It can have profound lasting effects if you follow your apology with real and genuine effort to fix the their problem to the best of your ability. (I know I promised you two methods but apologizing is just too simple and powerful for me to not add in 🙂 )

The more angry and stuck a person is on how terrible, unfair, or wrong, you or the problem is, the more you continue reflecting back the emotions you hear. If they tell you you don’t understand, try reflecting back their exact words, but try to repeat them like you genuinely feel them, not like a parrot just making fun of them. Keep reflecting back their emotions until they calm down. Then you can start the process of solving their problem or as gently as possible explaining why you can’t do whatever they want you to do.

If you can’t do anything to fix their problem, reflect back how terrible, unfair, or wrong it is that you can’t fix this for them. Remember you are simply reflecting their emotions and your understanding of them. You do not have to agree with them to be able to do this.

I often use a phrase something like: “Man, if someone treated me like that I’d be very angry too! That’s just crazy!” Notice, I am not stating that I agree they have been treated badly, only that if I was treated the way they believe they have been treated, that I could easily see myself feeling the same way. That is usually enough for them to feel heard and understood which nearly always leads them to calm down…sometimes much more quickly than you might guess!

If you give these two (three with the apology “bonus”) approaches a try, let me know how they work for you at Steven@TheStressReliefCoach.com

What Would Be Your Perfect Stress Free Day?

A way to build long term toughness against stress is to figure out what activities recharge your spirits.

God designed us to have rest and re-creation. One of the best ways is to find something that  helps you appreciate some aspect or quality about God.

For my wife and I traveling through and taking time to notice the amazing natural beauty God created is one of our favorites.

I decided to share a short video of one of the most amazing rides we have ever had.

Please share your favorite way to unwind and soak up God’s awesomeness in the comments below.

You Could be Talking Yourself Into Stress – Learn How to Stop

confusionDid you know you are probably talking and choosing your way into stress? Let me give you an example from a couple of different days in my life.

Talking yourself into stress – Have you ever had a day like this?

“A Bad Day” example – I arrived at work a little late and hoping to finish the first part of my work quickly so I could meet some former coworkers around lunch time. I had not notified anyone, so no one would be waiting if I didn’t make it at the time I wanted. Still,I felt rushed and responded to that feeling by making choices that amplified that hurried and worried feeling for the rest of the day.

First I took the golf cart ride from the facility entrance to the key checkout point instead of walking as I usually do. I told myself I was in a hurry this time and didn’t have time to enjoy a peaceful walk even though it would have only taken 3-5 min longer.

Next I tried to squeeze in an extra task before starting my list of appointments which resulted in me being a little late starting my appointments and adding another dose of hurried sense of urgency.

Then during my sessions I allowed part of my brain to be clock watching and stressing about being later than I wanted to meet my former coworkers. Usually, I relax and focus nearly exclusively on the moment, what my clients are telling me, and being in tune with what they were feeling and thinking. That gives me the best opportunity to offer truly effective feedback to my clients.

As it turns out my my visit including a blood donation went quicker than expected and I did get to briefly catch up with one former colleague.

However, back at my office my wife calls and wants me to come home early. Even during the call I felt pressure to hang up and get my paperwork done and catch up on 5 overdue files. I told her I would try but couldn’t promise, got off the phone and kept typing away with a sense of urgency, telling myself I needed to get it done quickly.

After catching up 2 of the 5 overdue files it became obvious that unless I wanted to stay pretty late I just needed to call it a day…I did and left in a hurry again, irritated I didn’t get everything done.

I got home maybe 10 to 15 min earlier due to my hurried and worried approach most of the day, but was tired, irritable, and just not very happy. All those little hurried choices, telling myself I didn’t have time had all lead up to stress at the end of the day when I should have been relaxing and enjoying being home with my wife!

“A Good Day” example – I arrived at work knowing I had a lot to do that day and being a little later than ideal. I felt a bit rushed riding into work due being late but instead of giving into that feeling and choosing the golf cart ride from the entrance to my key checkout building, I deliberately chose to walk and enjoy the cool breeze of the morning, to be grateful to God for the start of a beautiful day.

I continued to choose that grateful open mindset for the rest of the day.

I started my sessions telling myself something like, “It’s OK. It will be a long day but I’ll be pretty much caught up by the end. I just need to focus on listening for God’s promptings and know He is working all things together for my good and the good of my clients.”

After my sessions, it became very obvious that I was going to be late going home if I finished all the paper work first. I just accepted that as OK and worked through each page and letting go of any frustration over not being able to leave when I wanted to. I reminded myself that as long as I got it done, the next day would be easier and I would be catching up.

On the way home, I reviewed the amazing opportunities God had given me to support and encourage some of my brothers in Christ that day even in such a crazy negative place like prison!

By the time I got home, I was tired but happy, relaxed, and grateful.

What we tell ourselves, the immediate choices we make as a result of what we tell ourselves and whether or not we deliberately focus on God being enough, all make seemingly small but very powerful differences in our stress level. What choices are you making today? Have you confronted each problem with the perspective power question – “Is this problem bigger than my God?”

Stress Less Quick Tool:

Identify 4 times each day you can take 2-5 min and review what you have been saying about the day’s challenges or tasks over the previous hour or so. Think through what you have said to others and what you have said in your own mind and write them down. Do this for at least 3 days, ideally for 1 week. See if you can catch yourself saying Stress Filled Phrases like: “I’m just too busy.”, “This is too much, I can’t keep up!”, “I just don’t have enough time.”, “I knew something was going to go wrong.”, or anything else that suggests you are not OK in some way.

At the end of the day, review your list of thoughts about your challenges and tasks. Beside each Stress Filled Phrase you used, write down a reasonable way to rethink that specific situation or task from a more God trusting perspective.

If you can’t seem to find words to rethink the situation, pray and ask God to show you a better more God trusting way to think about the situation. Also try using the perspective power question – “Is this problem bigger than my God?”. Consider ways you could still be safe, secure and peaceful at heart even in the middle of the busy day and use those ideas to come up with words to help you write out a way to rethink your Stress Filled Phrases.

As soon as you start noticing yourself using Stress Filled Phrases as they happen in real time, start practicing stopping yourself briefly and looking for a way to rethink that challenging situation or task in a stress less way at the moment. The better you get at rethinking your Stress Filled Phrases with more God Trusting Phrases the more you will live freed from stress freed for a life that matters!

“…be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Romans 12:2 KJV

Gratitude Tapping for Sleep

Easy Tap for Anxiety Relief

Your To-Do List: From Overwhelming to Doable in 4 Simple Steps

Is your To-Do list forever long and you don’t know where to start? Does thinking about everything you have to do leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless? Try this strategy to go from overwhelmed to “I can do this!” in just four simple steps.

1. Pray.  Ask God to show you which tasks are truly important.

2. List all the tasks you need to do….

3. Ask yourself “If I could only get three done, which three would be most important for me to do today”.

4. Highlight those top three on your list and focus exclusively on doing those until they are complete. Don’t even think about the others, they are already on the list and you can consider them later.

If you have time left over after completing the first three, then go through the process again to identify the next three.

If you don’t entirely complete those three tasks, you can be satisfied you have already identified the best place to start the next day. You can rest this evening knowing you already have a specific plan for your work! You can wake up in the morning knowing exactly what to do with two or three priority tasks already identified instead of facing 20+ random thoughts about what you should do and no idea where to start. Definitely a stress less way to start your day!

If you get stressed from more than just your To-Do list, you may have some hidden stress factors working outside your usual awareness that are amplifying your stress.  To help identify which factor might be multiplying your stress the most and learn two simple strategies to start reducing it today take my free online Hidden Stress Factor Assessment. Click here.