Today, mental stress is increasingly associated with physical symptoms, and causes of stress abound. Your friend says she’s under a lot of stress with her new job. Your spouse seems stressed out. Perhaps you yourself haven’t been feeling well. It’s probably stress, you might think, and your doctor might agree. In fact, The Today Show’s Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman refers to stress frequently. Recently she mentioned how Ann Romney keeps her multiple sclerosis partly in check by decreasing stress.
What is stress? Is it tension over relationships or unrealistic expectations? Pressure from external events or people around you? Yes, and more. The dictionary defines stress as what happens when force is applied to a body, tending to strain and deform its shape. That doesn’t sound good to me. And, in the cases I’m talking about, it’s basically when our mental faculties are under duress, resulting in pressure and strain to our bodies.
But stress is not inevitable. My new colleague Lewis Bowling, Author and Fitness Teacher, writes in the Durham Herald Sun that stress-hardy people are proven to be physically fit, emotionally mature and “spiritually optimistic.” These people resist negative reactions to triggers like anger, offense or worry.
Can being “spiritually optimistic” and perhaps even praying help de-stress us? I learned that it can. During one six week period, I had six scheduled out of town trips and while on these trips, five major presentations to give. I also had nine short articles to write for publication, one of which had to be carefully edited by a colleague before an imminent deadline. As I confronted this onslaught of obligations, I began to feel stressed. Worse, I awoke one night just before the beginning of the six-week period to realize that there was an end-of-year financial report due in a few days, as well as a quarterly expense report. I had initially forgotten about both of these additional tasks. There was no way to postpone any of them and no one to help.
Actually, there was. For me, there was God. I prayed to understand God as “Mind”, which the Bible indicates he is, and asked to understand more of his inspiration and guidance. I was humble and listened for how to go about each assignment. The ideas came gently, continuously and each at the right time. I sailed through every one of those tasks with spiritual poise, dominion and even joy. There was no mental stress, and no physical discomfort. Prayer removed my anxiety and cleared the way for me to do what I had to do.
If prayer can help prevent mental stress in the first place, then it may be a tool to prevent bodily stress in the second. Healthier minds and bodies are outcomes everyone wants to see.
(Cynthia Barnett is the Media/Legislative Representative for the The Christian Science Committee on Publication, NC.)