I used to get furious when doctors would ask, “Are you stressed?”
NO! My life is perfectly ordinary and if anything, I’m less stressed now.
This WAS me: divorced; bankrupt; struggling with an eating disorder, OCD, and addiction; single-parenting twin two-year-old boys; working three jobs, while going to college.
This IS me now: stable; happily remarried; work-from-home mom.
Comparatively, I didn’t think I was stressed, so I would get angry when people would ask if I was stressed.
I couldn’t see how stress contributed to my autoimmune disease flaring up.
I couldn’t see how stress caused the unbearable tightness in my shoulders.
I couldn’t see how stress was causing my anger outbursts.
I couldn’t see all of this because I didn’t understand what stress truly was.
As a Christian, I learned stress and depression were signs that I was not trusting God. I was bombarded with:
- Pray more
- Read your Bible more.
- Don’t be anxious.
- Trust Jesus.
Yes, these are all great things, but when you don’t really understand what stress is, or that it’s even impacting you, you will stay stuck.
My ability to reduce stress changed when I was introduced to a tool called The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory. This test helped me see that stress was not about my lack of trust in God, it didn’t mean I was failing at handling my life, and it didn’t even mean that I wasn’t satisfied with my life!
Stress means change. Stress can be caused by good or bad events. Stress is when my body, mind, and soul need to adjust to a new circumstance. Marriage, pregnancy, babies, or a new job can all cause major stress even if they are the happiest moments of your life.
The Holmes-Rahe test asks a series of yes or no questions about life events experienced over the past 12 months, then assigns a point value to each answer. If the specific event happened more than once within the last year, then multiply the point value accordingly.
I really didn’t believe my stress level would be high because my life and marriage were the most steady and happy they had ever been. I was shocked when my score was 378!
My results meant that I had an 80 percent chance of a major health breakdown within the next two years. Considering I had been living with higher amounts of stress until that point in my life, no wonder I battled constant back pain and flares from my disease!
I am a very logical thinker so seeing things in black and white helps my brain. I could never figure out what it looked like to “find ways to reduce my stress.” Having an objective tool that clearly indicates some of the events causing me stress was helpful.
There are so many things that happen in our lives that we can’t control. Life, with all its unknowns, can be stressful. You can’t control if there is a death in the family, if you’re unexpectedly laid off, or are hit with a health issue you didn’t see coming.
BUT, there are so many things we can control.
When I saw my stress test, with all the inked up yeses, I knew I needed to start making major changes so I wouldn’t damage my health any further or continue to lash out at my kids in anger.
I sat back and looked at the test with my husband. We came up with a plan to go through each line and decide which situations we had control over and which situations were out of our control. Jon’s score was just as high as mine.
We committed to eliminating everything on the inventory that we had the ability to control for the following year. We wanted to be intentional about reducing our family stress. We let our friends and family know that we wouldn’t be hosting big holiday get-togethers or birthdays. We were going to focus on keeping everything as steady as possible.
No major financial changes, no job changes, and no vacations. We were hunkering down and keeping everything as steady as possible. We told our family and friends that we were focusing on our health and getting our stress scores down.
Each opportunity that came up, I would evaluate whether that was something I NEEDED to do. If it was just extra, I said no and kept to my plan of having as little change as possible throughout the year.
One year later, when I was teaching this tool at a women’s conference I took the test again. My score was lower by more than 100 points! I could actually feel the difference in my life.
When something stressful would come up, or a lot of changes were occurring, I could feel my shoulder begin to tighten and ache. It was amazing to be living outside a constant state of stress and be able to sense when my body was stepping back into it and reacting. Having my scores in the 200s meant I still had work to do. The warning for a major health crisis was only reduced to 50 percent. Another year being intentional and reducing stress was about to begin.
There was a massive amount of mom-guilt because I felt I was failing at making the holidays memorable for my kids. There was no way I could keep up with being a creative Pinterest mom while trying to simplify. With keeping things as simple and low-stress as possible, things were pretty basic around our house.
I needed to remind myself that I was doing something great for myself and my family in the long run. What’s the point of doing an awesome activity with my kids if I damage our relationship because of my anger during the process? There would be a time for going above and beyond again. And when this happened, I wouldn’t be a crazy monster while trying to make the day special for my family.
As I write this now, my score is 174. I’m still aiming to get it under 150, which indicates a normal amount of stress with a low susceptibility of a major health crisis. After I eliminate the rest of my stressors, I suspect I will hover at the upper end of the lowest range because I battle an autoimmune disease and chronic health issues. Knowing that chronic health issues will always be something I check yes to, I need to be vigilant in recognizing other areas of stress and saying no when needed.
It’s important for me to leave room for the Holy Spirit to lead me even if it does add more to my plate. This is another reason why it’s important for me to reduce stress in areas I have control over because I want to make room for Jesus to lead me. I want to make room for blessing others and loving people well and I can’t do this if I’m always running on empty and stretching myself too thin.
This last year of holidays brought me so much joy when I recognized that we were making memories and enjoying each other as a family without all the pressure of having things picture perfect. I’m really enjoying this simpler way of living life and loving others.
A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life.Proverbs 13:7 (MSG)
Ashley is the International Women's Groups Coordinator for Pure Desire. She helps churches around the world develop sexual integrity groups. Ashley oversees all women Regional Groups Advisors (RGAs), is a speaker, and a contributing author to Unraveled: Managing Love, Sex, and Relationships.