Do you know how to handle stress? We all face it. And we know it can hurt us. Yet, we struggle with how to handle it. A recent study found only 23 percent of people feel they are doing “an excellent or very good job at managing or reducing stress.”
Now picture some relaxed people you know. How have they gotten that way? Some may have genetic predispositions. Studies of happiness indicate that about 50 percent of a person’s “happiness quotient” is a result of DNA.
Perhaps the same can be said for our level of stress. What, then are some strategies we can use to address the other 50 percent?
As a person and teacher of faith, I look at this question from a spiritual perspective. Yet, this perspective does not ignore the scientific and psychological insights. In fact, some spiritual practices have long known what science recently discovered. Here are seven of them:
1. Pray: Prayer is not about asking for things. It is about gaining perspective. It is about reminding ourselves of what is most important. Taking a moment to pray helps us step out of the trees to look at the forest.
2. Join a community: A recent op-ed in the New York Times by Ross Douthat connected the rise in suicide to weakened social ties. Americans with little connection to established social institutions like a church or synagogue are more lonely and depressed. Studies show that joining a group that meets just once a month increases our life span.
3. Unload to a friend: Religions have long had a structure for expressing our grief or pain or anxiety. Some of these feelings reflect guilt, which is addressed in Catholicism through confession.
In Judaism the custom of studying in pairs facilitates relationships that provide an emotional balance and partnership for processing the challenges of life. All of us need find a way get out what is hurting us inside.
4. Breathe: The Hebrew language uses the same word for “breath” and “soul.” Every breath we take nourishes the soul. This habit is accessible to us wherever are. We can pause and breath deeply. It can instantly help us slow down.
5. Change your language: Our words shape our thoughts. They help form our perception of what we are experiencing. So often we use highly charged language to describe our feelings. “We are exhausted,” or “so upset” or “really frustrated.” If we dial down our language, we may find that our feelings follow.
6. Sleep: Unless we are a new parent or part of the .001 percent of the population who are the exception to the rule, we need to sleep for 7-8 hours on a regular basis. We were not made to keep going and going.
We were made for cycles of work and rest. If we do not get enough sleep, we have shorter attention spans. We are usually more impatient and short with others. Getting a good night’s sleep may sound like common sense. But it is wisdom many choose not to follow at their own peril.
7. Observe the Sabbath: This habit follows the logic of the previous one. God did not create us to run at full-speed all the time. We need to rest. Fortunately, a day of rest was built into the order of creation. I believe the entire story of the seven days of creation is meant to teach us that God intended for us to take a full day for rest.
To observe the Sabbath, you do not necessarily need to follow all the Jewish laws or Christian practices. You do have to go to synagogue or church. Just change what you do. Do not feel the need to be productive. Try not to talk about work. Try to do activities that replenish your mind and soul.
A great musician was once asked by an admirer: “How do you handle the notes as well as you do?” The musician answered: “The notes I handle no better than many pianists, but the pauses between the notes–ah! That is where the art resides.” The Sabbath is our pause between the notes of life.
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