home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
Posted November 16, 2010

Stressed Out

Pat Brennan

A survey entitled Stress in America compiled last August was released this past week. The survey was conducted for the American Psychological Association by Harris Interactive. 1,134 adults were surveyed. 76% cited money as the biggest cause of stress. For the 1037 parents of kids ages 8 - 17, also surveyed, 80% cited money as a stressor. The top stressors among the adults who were interviewed, after money, were work, the economy, family responsibilities, relationships in general, personal health concerns, housing costs, job stability, health problems affecting the family, and personal safety. Some of the adults surveyed said that when they feel stress, they have trouble eating. Some people said that when they are under stress they overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Some said they suffer from insomnia and cannot sleep well at night.

91% of 1136 young people, ages 8 -17 surveyed, say that they know when their parents are stressed. The young people say that parents yell more when they are under stress and that they argue with people in the household. A number of young people said that parents were too busy with their stressful lives and had no time for them. The young people surveyed between ages 8 - 17 reported their feelings when they feel their parents are stressed. The recurring feelings were sad, worried, frustrated, annoyed, helpless, angry, scared, and alone. The dominant feelings among that list were sad, worried, and frustrated.

The survey of the young people showed also that overweight children are more stressed than those of normal weight. Young people of above normal weight reported more health problems than those of normal weight. The problems that they articulated signal stress. Among the problems are difficulty sleeping, headaches, anger, and fighting. Overweight children respond to stress by eating or taking a nap. Young people of normal weight reported more healthy activity such as playing sports.

Psychologist Norman B. Anderson, APA's chief executive officer said, "America is at the critical crossroads when it comes to stress, and our health. Year and year, nearly 3/4 of Americans experience stress at levels that exceed what they define as healthy, putting themselves at risk for developing chronic illness.....Stress is hurting our physical and emotional health and contributing to some of the leading causes of death in this country. People are also saying they have difficulty implementing the changes they know will decrease their stress and improve their health, yet our health system is not adequately addressing this issue or providing the behavioral health treatments that can help Americans. All of us, including the medical community, need to take stress seriously since stress could easily become our next public health crisis." The study went on to say that parents are not in touch with how much stress children and teens experience, how parental stress negatively impacts on children and teens, and parents also underestimate the impact that stress has on the family as a whole.

Again this week, the scripture readings focus on "end times", as we come to the end of the liturgical year next week. Something that apocalyptic, eschatological literature does for me is focus me on the now. Sensing that various ends are coming in our lives, I think, should make us more intentional about how we are living our lives in the present moment.

The reading from Book of the prophet Malachi speaks of a coming day of the Lord, an end time experience that will find some people not ready for the event, and still others who will be ready and experience the end as a time of healing. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul addresses a group of people who have become paralyzed by their concern about the end, the coming day of the Lord, the second coming of Christ. He challenges them to break out of their paralysis and seek some quality for their lives. Malachi and 2 Thessalonians are also calling us to a kind of healthy vigilance and watchfulness.

Similarly Jesus speaks of a time to come when the temple will be destroyed. He goes on to speak more generally about the coming end of time, but he concludes his teaching on the end with a consoling comment, ".....not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives." In an apocalyptic, eschatological teaching which can be frightening, Jesus is reminding us of a resource available to us; and that is our relationship with God, a spiritual life, a life of faith. Though life can become frightening and stressful, we have in God a resource that can bring healing. We are to persevere in developing our connection with this divine resource.

The APA/Harris study and the words of sacred scripture about the end focus us as a people on the now. What research is showing us is that increasingly we are people of anxiety and stress. God's word calls us to a vigilance, a watchfulness, about both the end and the now. What should such vigilance and watchfulness involve and include?

Some years ago I wrote a book entitled Spirituality for an Anxious Age. In that book, I tried to offer therapeutic strategies that I learned both as a counselor, but also in personal therapy for problems I have had with anxiety and stress. When I counsel people now in psychotherapy, I offer some of these strategies. In this age of anxiety, it is very important for us to take time to listen to ourselves. As Carl Rogers used to say that we need to become congruent with ourselves. We need to take the time to listen to and name, get clarification about our thoughts and feelings. I think at times anxiety and stress are symptomatic of a kind of emotional indigestion, in which all sorts of emotions and feelings are running around chaotically within us and we are not in touch with them. On a spiritual level, I think as we name thoughts and feelings it is very important to lift them up to God in prayer. I believe that prayerful intimacy with God is sharing with God all that we come to know and understand about ourselves. As we listen to our feelings and thoughts, and name them, we need to move on to an attempt to gain insight. Why might we be feeling and thinking what we are feeling and thinking? Listening to and naming thoughts and feelings, gaining insight are important steps in a therapeutic transformation of anxiety and stress; but they are only initial steps. Other steps and strategies are needed.

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches us that often when we are experiencing painful, chaotic feelings, those feelings come from patterns of thinking that have become second nature to us. These patterns of thinking can be described by stinkin' thinkin'. Such thought patterns are exceedingly negative, leading us to anxiety and stress. This school of therapy says that many of us need to thought catch, thought stop, and thought replace, if we are going to better manage the anxiety and stress in our lives.

Growth out of anxiety, stress, and depression demands that we make some hard decisions about how we need to change, not just our thinking and our feelings, but also our behavior. Often we get stuck in emotional valleys, because we are lacking in the courage to change behavior. Change of mind, heart, and behavior must be done holistically. Often, we might need to change behavior first, and then some of our thoughts and feelings will catch up with our behavior change. To change mind, heart, and behavior demands that we have a willingness to experience discomfort. There is no growth without a willingness to embrace discomfort.

In Adlerian psychology, we speak of the lifestyle, or the vision for life that each of us has and is present in us by about age 3, 4, or 5. Adlerians teach that most of us have flaws in our vision, or our lifestyle, our approach to life; and we need to re-educate our vision. I have written and spoken many times over the years about the importance of replacing the mistaken notions and ideas in each of our personal visions with the values, attitudes, the convictions, the behavioral change that we find in the Reign of God preaching and teaching of Jesus. Transforming anxiety and stress, in addition to being a psychological, behavioral process, is a spiritual process. For me, confronting anxiety, stress, and depression has been the major way I have experienced conversion to the Reign of God.

Twelve Step methodology teaches us that if recovering addicts are going to become sane and sober, they must have a spiritual program - some things that they do or do not do each day to keep themselves healthy, to keep themselves connected to a higher power. Such a spiritual program necessitates daily prayer, alone time, time with others, community, a healthy diet, exercise, and other disciplines.

Key to living in this age of anxiety is what I call paschal living. We need to realize that we have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This becoming process of life, death, and new life is going on in each of our lives all the time. We need to learn to trust the process here on earth, and we need to learn to trust this process ultimately as we confront the mystery of physical death, final death in each of our lives, and in the lives of people that we love. So much stress and anxiety can be lessened if we are convinced that we are always moving toward new life and ultimately eternal life.

Let God's Word this week comfort our anxious, stress-filled hearts. Listen to Malachi, "....for you....there will arrive the sun of justice with its healing rays." Also, hear Jesus, "....not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives."

In Jesus,

Pat Brennan
National Center for Evangelization