Handling Stress God’s Way

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stressThis past week has been stressful.

Stressful as in Category 5 stressful. Stressful as in “stick a fork in me because I’m done” stressful.

Most of this stress has to do with the insane vagaries of self-publishing, the details of which I will save for another post when I have finally figured out what the heck I’m doing. (The short version is that it looks like The Twible will still be out in November, Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. But it won’t have been without a lot of toil and tears.)

And the calendar is too full. And the dog’s been sick. And it’s almost the anniversary of my mom’s cancer diagnosis. And, and.

So, how do I handle stress? From the confident title of this post a reader might assume that I know the secret. I don’t. But all I know is that I need to work on this problem, because when I feel this anxious, I’m not honoring God.

I’m reminded of a story. When one of my friends got married years ago, she was terribly anxious the whole day before the wedding. A bunch of us had traveled in from out of town, but she was too busy with wedding details to spend time with us. She worried about hurting our feelings, about the wedding ceremony, about the weather, about almost everything. The night before the wedding she was crying at the kitchen table, comforted by her fiance, who was very loving if a bit bewildered.

The next day she was much better. I asked her what had made the difference and she told me something I did not expect: she had realized that her anxiety was a sin.

I hadn’t thought of anxiety and stress in this manner before, except to compound my guilt (e.g., “How can I be so worried about this particular First World Problem when people are starving?”). But if sin is anything that willfully separates us from God, then my friend was right: anxiety is a sin, and so is excessive self-focus.

So today, I said a prayer of repentance. Through my fault. Through my fault. Through my most grievous fault.

I don’t know much about “handling stress God’s way.” Some people seem very able to just give all their problems over to God, but . . . let’s just say that surrendering control is not my strong suit. I know that this trait adds to my stress, so the obvious solution would simply be to dump the stress. “Let go and let God,” as the bumper sticker says.

But I am also a realist. The truth is that I’m unlikely to drastically change  my personality. I am slowly learning (emphasis on the s-l-o-w-l-y) that there is room in God’s kingdom even for control freaks. And that I don’t stop being a control freak just by commanding myself to; the accept-no-compromises approach is, in fact, exactly what a control freak would do.

I’m not going to make myself over, but I am going to confess my sin. There is power and comfort just from naming it, apologizing for it, and starting over with God’s help.

“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matt. 6:27)

  • I have (now well-managed) OCD, so do I ever relate to the experience of excessive stress and the spiritual toll it takes. The single most effective thing I have ever done for it is to practice mindfulness meditation. It doesn’t have to be a long session, just a few moments to allow the stress to be what it is, to experience it, to accept it–even embrace it–and then make a conscious choice to act from my higher self, even if the anxiety is still there. And if I have to do this little practice of experiencing, embracing, and then acting 100 times a day, that’s what I do. 🙂

    I’m sorry it’s been a rough week. Hang in there! I’m looking forward to the release of The Twible. I hope to snatch up a few copies and give them away as gifts. What you’ve been sharing from it looks so awesome, hiccups along the way notwithstanding. 🙂

  • Marion Fust Sæternes

    <3 "This to shall pass".

    Planning to give away the Twible also. This Christmas – or the next. Most important is that you stay well.

  • Thanks, you two. I hope that the publishing problems are resolved — fingers crossed. I did go to yoga class this weekend and it was a great help to my state of mind. As was the Sabbath yesterday.

    Marion, these problems with publishing and distributing the book mean, among other things, that it might be hard to buy from abroad. If that’s true then FB message me and I can do a private order and send them to you (signed, even!). –JKR

  • I never looked at anxiety this way, so thank you for opening my eyes. I have known that I shouldn’t be anxious because God will take care of me, but I didn’t realize that I was actually sinning. Thanks for your post.

  • Dean Bender

    Consider, 1 Depression is caused primarily by our mental processing of events and conditions (the past); 2 Anxiety is all about the future; and 3 President Boyd K. Packer’s teaching about the study of the Doctrines changing behavior (reducing anxious feelings) faster than the study of behavior (psychotherapy). Is it a logical conclusion that a detailed, spiritual study of the doctrines of Faith and Hope would relieve anxiety to a significant degree?
    In my most anxious state, that I can recall, I took my wife to the temple and for me that put the future in proper perspective.
    However, this is written by a person who is bothered by anxiety at the two level on a scale of zero to ten.

  • Love the vulnerability in this post. We’ve all been there!

  • Thomas Van Brunt

    Anxiety may be a sin to you, but not to me.   Anxiety is an illness often linked with depression.  Telling me that my anxiety is a sin is like telling a cancer patient that she is responsible for her disease.

    Of course we can work on the stressful behavior that sometimes causes anxiety, but for many of us it is a recurring part of our lives.  Prayer, meditation and walking help.

  • That is an excellent point, and I’m glad you brought it up. I shouldn’t have been so universal in saying that anxiety is a sin. It is a sin for *me*, because I have some choice in the matter, but not everyone does. I need to be more sensitive to that reality. Thanks for making me see this, and peace be with you.