Managing Stress Joyfully
Rita Madden · August 18, 2011
Proper prayer, helping others, hobbies, healthy laughter, simplifying our lives, and singing can all be ways for us to manage our stress and benefit our health and weight. This podcast will review these various concepts and give us strategies for how to implement them into our daily lives.
Welcome to another session of Food, Faith, and Fasting. We are still going to be talking about stress management in this session. If we’re talking about it again it obviously must be something that’s very relevant to our health and weight. I’m not just doing it to torture you. It’s going to benefit you, benefit all of us.
I wanted to start off with a couple of sayings by the Desert Fathers:
Constant prayer quickly straightens out our thoughts.
Do not want things to turn out as they seem best to you, but as God pleases. Then you will be free from confusion and thankful in prayer.
These two aspects of prayer kind of tie into what we were saying last week, but they specifically help us with stress management. When we want things to go a certain way and then they don’t, it causes frustration and anger in us. Both of which are not good for our health.
Both of which can cause all those different physical symptoms that we were talking about a couple sessions back in terms of stress in the body to be set off. Digestion might not happen as effectively. Weight loss could be difficult. Blood sugars could go unmanaged. Calcium could be ripped out of the bones. All these different scenarios could start to happen as the [result] of cortisol levels being elevated due to poorly managed stress.
When we fulfill that expression “Let go and let God”—turn to God in prayer—our prayer should be ended with, “Okay, this is what I’d like, but thy will be done.” Then it’s in God’s hands. Think about how much easier we can make our lives if we can just really trust God, give it to God, be at peace with God’s will as the best way.
I see it in my own life all the time, when I start to just worry and think about this and that and want this to happen and don’t want this to happen and this happened and it shouldn’t have happened, etc. What am I doing? I’m creating so much unnecessary thought in my head, so much of that white noise sort of thing. I can’t silence myself to hear God. I can’t even thank God for the blessings that he has blessed me with. I’m not even able to see them because I’m so concerned about my own will.
Focusing on constant prayer and recognizing that it does straighten out our thoughts is a good way to tame the ego, to handle the ego. It’s not all about what I want. I should want God’s will to be done in my life. This is a very large and hard concept for all of us to practice, but, again, we start to recognize that focusing and returning to God also benefits—hey, what do we know?—our health! It’s going to help us in stress management. As much as we can do this as possible [is] the best. So go back to last session and listen to the strategies we were talking about in terms of creating prayer rules in your day.
If you are not one that practices the Jesus Prayer on a regular basis, maybe this could be something new that you’re ready to incorporate into your daily life. Think about where your prayer life can be strengthened, where it can take place on a more consistent basis. And when we see in Church tradition morning prayers, afternoon prayers, evening prayers, we have this plan outlined for us of when we should be praying. It keeps us focused. It keeps us guided. It keeps us almost in a ritual sense. When it’s being performed for the glory of God and in the right context, it’s going to do wonders for our health, wonders for, not just our physical health, but our spiritual health and our mental health. It’s all going to come into play.
Another thing I want to emphasize today is the importance of simplifying our lives. We really recognize that when we have too much going on, it’s constant fluster, when we have too many things in our home and we’re not using them. St. Basil tells us: The clothes in your closet that you’re not wearing are the clothes of the poor. The food that’s molding in the refrigerator is the food for the poor. When we start to recognize that we can decrease the stuff in our life, we open up ourselves more to be able to be filled with other things such as spiritual growth.
Too many things. It’s just little works of the evil one, the materialistic world. Marketing this, saying we need that. See if there is something that you can do to minimize the stuff in your life. A great thing to try to do is, if you get something new, you have to give something away. Try to create that pattern.
If you know that garage is full and it annoys you every time you go out to the garage—you’re knocking this over or tripping over that—well, you can decrease that frustration in your life that’s probably causing stress and have a cleaning day. Figure out what you can get rid of. If it hasn’t been used in eight months, you’re probably not going to use it. It might be something that you need to donate.
Make it a family project. See if you can call upon some friends and have them all do the same thing. Make it an event. Have a fund-raiser for a charitable organization that you’d like to sponsor through the church or something like that. Have a garage sale with the kids. The kids can sell some homemade lemonade and you’re getting rid of a lot of stuff. It’s a fun day for the whole family, and you can be raising money to do something positive with. Make that start to be your clean slate. Then you start to recognize: simplifying your life decreases some of the stress.
Another thing I want to mention here is singing and chanting. There is so much research now coming out about the different brain waves that are triggered when people listen to music or when people actually sing or hum or whistle, anything of that sort. Many times, we go to our services and we don’t participate. We’re just sitting there. Trying to sing—to make a joyful noise, to be a part—allows the different theology to resonate with you, when you say it or when you chant it or when you sing it. It resonates more with you.
Try to incorporate this into your home. When you’re having your prayer time, maybe take some time to chant some psalms. It’s a very great way to clock out of our worldly day, spend time with God, and also help in relieving stress, just trying to do that. If you’re not a chanter, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a chanter. I love to sing. Singing in the shower is probably one of the better places people like me to sing, but I still do it. I still try to chant in my home as much as possible.
It’s interesting, too, the work of the Holy Spirit when you hear these beautiful hymns and the different troparions that we sing at different feast days. Then you notice that you start to go through your day and sing them. They’re becoming prayers that are internalized. Sing them. Make that just a regular part of your day. When you’re in your car and you’re stuck in traffic, don’t let that traffic stress you out. Start singing instead.
Another thing to recognize is that healthy laughter is important. The reason I want to term it “healthy laughter” is because sometimes we can be laughing for the wrong reasons, and we all know this. It’s not good, and it can just take us down a sinful path. Finding regular doses of positive laughter… My favorite way to laugh is just being around kids. Teenagers can kind of stress me out, but kids, they’re just providing endless amounts of laughter. In all seriousness about the teenagers, that’s a hard time of life. We all know it. We’ve all gone through it. But spending time with positive people and with children as much as possible can be very, very good for our health.
Another thing is if you’re feeling really down, if you’re feeling like it’s a rough time for you, some of the best advice that I’ve heard is to help someone else in need. I heard of a story from a person that was recovering from Hurricane Katrina. It was interesting. They lost everything. They were trying to get their life back together, and whenever they started to get really frustrated, they would say, “Okay, it’s time to go help someone else.” Instead of allowing that frustration to manifest and eat away, they ended it by going to help someone else.
They always say when you feel like you’re stuck and you start to pray for someone else that’s in need, it shows you really how blessed you are. Try to make that something you can do: helping others. We know that when we are giving of ourselves and helping others in need, this is good for our heart; this is good for our life. When we choose to live this life, there’s no other choice but to help others. And we want to do that. That act should be acts of love. It’s more blessed to give than to receive. All these different teachings that we have, that are part of Holy Scripture and Church Tradition, benefit our health as they help us with the management of stress in our lives.
Again, we have to recognize that we’re not overcommitting. When you start to overcommit, you get stressed out. I remember talking to my spiritual father about this. I said, “I just feel like I’m really struggling. I’m doing too much, and I feel like other people aren’t doing anything.” This was just a confession that I had to make, and I received such good advice. He said, “Only do it if you truly want to do it. If you’re doing something and you really, truly don’t want to do it, we don’t want you to do it anyways.” It really helped me to hear that, because then I started to recognize: there are times that it’s going to be okay to say no, but when I am serving, I have to do it whole-heartedly.
There are many times that we overcommit, and instead of enjoying this time because we’re attending this party that we feel like we have to be at, we end up getting frustrated instead of actually enjoying the people we’re surrounded by. It’s important to recognize that saying no, creating healthy boundaries, is an okay thing to do. Yes, there are going to be times when we can’t get out of certain things that we have to do, but as much as possible when it’s in our control, recognize overcommitting can be harmful. But recognizing that we are called to serve. So see where your time, your talents, your strengths, lay and celebrate those; give those. But do it in a healthy concept.
One final thing I want to mention is hobbies. Again, this takes us back to not overcommitting, but recognizing that hobbies that we enjoy can be a very good thing. I talked to a guy and he was all stressed out. I said, “What do you like to do?” He said, “Well, I like to fish.” I said, “When was the last time you went fishing?” He said, “I don’t know. That’s been quite some time.” He likes to fish. He knows that fishing is a good way to help him manage stress, yet he hasn’t made the time to do it for months!
Recognize that having this time of enjoying a hobby can actually be time well-spent with the Lord. We talk about getting into ceaseless prayer. Even when we’re performing a hobby that we enjoy, that can be a time to spend time with the Lord. One of my favorite hobbies is making jewelry. It’s just nice if I’m making a necklace as a gift for someone. It allows me to spend time in prayer creating that gift for someone.
If you have a hobby that you enjoy that you’ve been away from for quite some time, see if you can return to practicing that hobby, even if it’s just once every other week. When you do it,try to do it in a way to glorify God. Have it be a time that you’re going to also spend in prayer.
I remember visiting monasteries and the idea of when we have to go through our daily life and do these daily tasks, such as washing the dishes or sweeping the floor, this can also be a time of prayer. We start to even recognize that our daily tasks are still a time for us to be in constant prayer. It doesn’t make that task seem like something else to do: “I don’t have time to do this,” but, “Let me do this, and let me also have time to pray at the same time.”
Again, this kind of all goes back to this idea of constant prayer. But there are simple things that we can do to help in continuing to manage the stress. I want to do a quick review of the things we talked about today, and focus on ones that are relevant to you, and make them assignments for your daily life.
When we meet in the future, we’re going to talk about ways to set these different assignments that we’ve been talking about in the past sessions as manageable goals, as practical goals, as realistic goals that we can meet.
But for this week, start to try to do certain things that are going to help you with managing the stress. First and foremost, try to find a way to simplify your life. Try to also focus on prayer being with “thy will be done,” God’s will be done. So don’t get yourself stressed out about this or that; just ask God, “Whatever your will is with this certain situation in my life, make it be done.” Focus on singing and chanting, whether it be in your home environment, softly in church if you don’t feel like you know everything quite yet, but allow yourself to sing and chant more in your daily life. Focus on healthy laughter. Focus on having a joyful heart when helping others. Taking that time to make sure that you’re helping others, but not overcommitting to the point that when you are serving others, it’s not in a joyful way. And then finally, focus on returning to the hobbies that you enjoy in your life, and make that a time well-spent with the Lord. Also recognize that practicing that thing that you enjoy can also be a way to manage stress.
Enjoy your ways of managing stress in your life this week, and continue to add to it. As we continue to move through these sessions, don’t ever hesitate to go back and to listen to one that you need a reminder from, or just need to hear it one more time to let it resonate with you. Thank you for your time, and remember: enjoy that healthy laughter.