While free-lancing for business magazines, I was assigned to write a story about a steel production company that supplied pipe to the energy industry. I was intrigued by the rigorous stress tests run on each piece of pipe. One procedure involved a “hydro test" - water was pumped inside the pipe until a pre-determined pressure was reached. The pressure was maintained for a set duration of time; weaknesses or flaws in the pipe caused leaking or bursts of water. If there were no leaks or bursts, the pipe was approved for delivery to a client.
You may be thinking, “What does steel pipe have to do with me?" More than you might realize. It's not just steel pipe that needs to be strong enough to tolerate reasonable levels of stress. Cultivating inner stress tolerance may be your most effective stress management strategy.
The Stress Equation
What causes stress? Most people blame the symptoms of stress - which may include anxiety, insomnia, depression, fatigue, on-going health problems, irritability and anger - entirely upon stressful circumstances.
Circumstances comprise only one part of the stress equation, however. The other critical factor is what I call, “internal stress tolerance. "
When leaking or bursts of water occur during stress tests on steel pipe, two conditions must be present: intense water pressure, and inherent flaws or weaknesses in the pipe. The flaws are exposed under pressure.
Similarly, the symptoms of stress often reflect a combination of stressful circumstances and internal problems. Most people focus exclusively on the first part of the stress equation - their circumstances. But internal issues must also be resolved to successfully conquer the symptoms of stress.
Evaluate Your Choices
First, evaluate the first part of the equation - stressful circumstances. Are you driven to excessive busyness? If so, why? Do you feel the need to be all things to all people? Is your self-worth wrapped up in having others admire you for your performance? Have you created a busy, crisis-oriented lifestyle in order to avoid facing your problems?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes", it's time to take ownership for your hectic lifestyle and make changes. Superwoman is a myth; anyone who aspires to this title will eventually pay the price with a physical or emotional breakdown.
You probably don't want to hear this, but suffering from anxiety, sickness, fatigue or any other stress symptom could be one of the best things that ever happened to you. After all, there's only one way to find out what's inside a sponge - you must squeeze it. Similarly, pressures and trials expose emotional and spiritual problems; we can no longer bury them and pretend they don't exist. That frees us to start making constructive changes.
If you are suffering from the symptoms of stress, make the most of this time to learn more about yourself and the “why" behind your choices.
Building Internal Stress Tolerance
Now that you have evaluated your lifestyle choices, it's time to work on the second part of the stress equation: internal stress tolerance.
Genuine peace, strength and joy have nothing to do with circumstances. They can never be found through money, possessions, success or even the best of relationships. Rather, they emanate from the lives of those who have mastered the art of trusting God. The Bible provides a timeless proven remedy for anxiety: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (Ps. 91:1-2).
Those who desire God's presence above all else find refuge from the storms of life. A refuge is not an escape; it is an inner state of peace and confidence that transcends our circumstances, providing peace and protection in the midst of the most violent storms.
In practical terms, trusting God means that we daily take our concerns, fears and needs to Him. Each day, we take time to seek His wisdom, refreshing and grace.
I can think of many times when my circumstances seemed impossible, or my heart was crushed, or discouragement threatened to overwhelm me. But as I spent time in God's presence, I experienced the power of the biblical promise, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).
God's promises never fail. If we will let go of our desire to control and instead entrust our dreams, fears and hopes to our faithful heavenly Father, we will find peace. We will receive supernatural wisdom for dealing with every problem we face. Empowered by His strength, we will not be crushed by tragedy or failure, nor will we become sick or emotionally distressed every time we face a setback or trial.
Inner peace has nothing to do with the absence of stress, tragedy and pain; it has everything to do with Whom we trust, as illustrated in the following story.
An art contest was advertised. The theme of the contest was “Peace", and a prize would be awarded to the artist who most effectively depicted peace.
The day for the entries to be judged arrived, and the various paintings were displayed in a gallery. Typical scenes portrayed by the artists included ducks floating serenely on a quiet pond; palm trees blowing gently in the ocean breeze; moonlight reflecting off a tranquil mountain lake.
One painting stood out in stark contrast to the others. At first glance, it seemed anything but peaceful. A violent storm raged over the dark and dreary scene. Trees were bent by a blustering wind. Giant waves threatened to flood a riverbank.
In the midst of the chaos was an oak tree. Cradled under its branches was a nest; there, protected under the body of their mother, three baby robins slept peacefully, oblivious to the storm that raged around them. It was this painting that won the prize.
You also can know the security that enabled these baby robins to rest peacefully in the midst of a violent storm. Make God your refuge - and He will empower you to walk through any storm and remain strong, peaceful and secure. He won't always change your situation, but He will change how you respond to it.
Judy Rushfeldt is an author, speaker, and online magazine publisher (http://www.LifeToolsforWomen.com ) whose passion is to help women reach their dreams. Her latest book, Making Your Dreams Your Destiny - a woman's guide to awakening your passions and fulfilling your purpose, is available in quality bookstores in Canada and in the United States. You can read more about this book and order online at: http://www.MakingYourDreams.com