Things will go wrong, but we can choose how we handle our stress and other people’s too.
Too much stress is bad enough for one person, but contagious, second-hand stress? Yep, many are beginning to fear you can catch it. This latest theory about stress was featured on Good Morning America in a study from St. Louis University, which showed individual subjects viewing videos of other people experiencing stress. The subjects’ body statistics were then taken and stress was the diagnosis. Even worse, when spouses or loved ones viewed the stressed-out individuals who were watching the videos, they themselves began to show stress. Does that make it third-hand stress?
Hold on one minute there. Must we accept that stress, first-, second-, or third-hand, is now a new health law? I don’t think so.
I’m finding that I have practical spiritual tools at hand to defend myself against stress. These tools consist of health-giving attitudes like calm, patience, and respect for others. These attitudes are as close as our thoughts: in fact, they can be our thoughts if we choose them.
Here is how this worked for me recently. My husband and I agreed it was time to do some major painting in our home’s interior. (Actually, he agreed with my decision!) I told him I’d pay for it out of my salary and I’d do the hiring and supervising of the paint contractors. He wouldn’t have to do a thing except to be patient for the process to be over.
Now, in our household my husband takes on the traditional manly roles of budget-keeper, handyman, supporter of my domestic choices, and chief stoic when little things go wrong. He does all of this, usually, with grace and love.
But when a few little things during the painting did indeed go wrong; like the household items jumbled in heavy, unlabeled boxes, the computer printer not reconnected properly, and the landline situated on the wrong side of the bed, things got stressful for him. So much chaos! He began to fret that he’d need to spend money on more packing boxes and even take time off from work later to put things right. Seeing his stress, I began to feel stress. I reacted by defending the contractors and dismissing my husband’s feelings. A few testy words were exchanged; a few grumblings were overheard. Sigh.
Then a wonderful thing happened. A close friend called. This friend offered a gentle apology for returning my earlier call to him so late (it wasn’t really) and explained that he’d had to stay late after a church meeting to fix the piano. Something was very wrong with it, and apparently only he could fix it. That must have been stressful, I suggested.
But this good man said, “Oh no, it just took a bit of work and a lot of patience. I finally found the missing part on the floor and everything’s just fine now.”
I was very still, thinking about this: a bit of work and a lot of patience. But how to put this into practice?
So I changed my thinking; I decided to take the words of an ancient sage to heart when he says that God’s thoughts toward us are “of peace and not of hurt.” They bring us hope and a future, not stress and anxiety. I knew I was God’s child, and so had access to this goodness.
I let spiritual thoughts of peace, and not of hurt, become my thoughts. And, I put a little work and a lot of patience into this change. Soon, my husband found the printer error and easily moved the landline. When my computer suddenly acted up, I quickly found the problem and fixed it. We spoke gently to each other. Peace returned. The house remained cattywampus for a time, but that didn’t stress us anymore.
This lesson helped later that week when I had to put on a series of big events for my work. I had engaged a guest speaker, and she needed transportation to and from the airport, several meals, and the smooth planning of three meetings in different places where she was featured. With a little work and a lot of patience, all these tasks proved to be almost effortless, even delightful, for me to do. The speaker was happy with the arrangements, the events were successful and much good was accomplished, affecting many people. With my new-found spiritual poise, I even invited the speaker to our cattywampus house for dinner, and she did not express any stress at all!
From this experience, I saw that stress is not inevitable, and it certainly doesn’t have to be contagious. Even when it threatens our peace, we have spiritual tools to fend it off and defeat it.