Feeling stressed out?
Try this 3-step relief valve

If you're feeling stressed out, you're probably in the majority right now.

Most of us assume there's no escape from life's pressure. It comes at us from all sides, especially on the job. And since we have to work to eat, anxiety seems inescapable. What we're all looking for is a relief valve that's not only healthy but effective.

When it comes to a relief valve, keep three things in mind. First, you want something that actually works. Second, you don't want your relief valve to cause even worse problems down the road. And third, your relief valve will have to be repeated because its effect will only be temporary.

Feeling stressed out: These things work

Since stress is an emotional response to demands upon you, an effective relief valve must occupy your mind fully, giving it a mini-vacation from negative emotions. But that's not enough. You must also take a positive approach.

Here's a quick example. My favorite uncle had a stressful job as maintenance director at the local hospital. His doctor told him to get a hobby to help him relax. As an aside, my uncle was a perfectionist, which was exactly the kind of personality the hospital needed to keep it spotlessly clean and its mechanicals running like a Swiss watch. He took up golf, but it wasn't long before he was applying his perfectionism to the game, turning it into another stressor as he fought to master it.

Hobbies are certainly a fun way to expand your life and relieve tension at the same time. But don't do what my uncle did. Don't turn them into a competition.

Whether it's painting, collecting things, watching TV, sports, or travel, make sure your relief valve puts you in a calm state of mind. It has to fit your personality. I'm kind of a homebody. I don't enjoy traveling, so that's not my hobby. Make sure, too, that if your hands or body are occupied, that your brain is on the same track. You won't get any benefit if you're playing the guitar but worrying about your job while doing it. Whatever it is, throw your whole self into it.

Your relief valve should be something you truly look forward to doing. It should feel like a reward, because it is. Again, lots of people enjoy going to the gym. The physical exertion relaxes tense muscles. Channeling aggression into lifting weights or working on machines is a healthy outlet. Just don't let yourself get madder and madder at your boss as you're doing it!

Reading is enormously popular because it puts you In another world, is relaxing and intellectually rewarding. It's always been an excellent stress-buster.

What's even worse than stress

Feeling stress out affects everyone, and sadly, we have millions of examples of how not to relieve it. Because actions have consequences, each of us needs to think ahead about the possible outcomes of our relief valve.

Drug and alcohol addicts didn't do that. No one gets started on substance abuse thinking, "I'm going to ruin my life, but I'm going ahead anyway." No, what they think is, "It won't happen to me. I'll be able to control it."

Of course, substance abuse, from vaping to crystal meth, is not a question of mind over matter. These drugs hook you physically as well as mentally. You don't quit them with sheer willpower. That's why it's wise not to start in the first place.

The drug of choice for millions of people is alcohol. The United States tried prohibition for ten years and it didn't work. It led to bootleg liquor and the rise of the Mafia. The problem, even worse today than the 1920s, is that alcohol does relieve stress and inhibitions. But it's too easy and too self-destructive. Usually it destroys the drunk's family as well and sometimes innocent people, in DUI accidents.

Many of you reading this will be turned off by my lectures. One of my purposes with this site, though, is to help you avoid trouble. I'm an old guy now, nearly 68, and while I've never smoked, used drugs or taken a drink, I have seen those substances demolish enough lives to be convinced those things are better left alone.

Here's the deal: When you're feeling stressed out, these substances do work, but at a terrible cost. Rather than be sorry you went down that path, be smart and take a different path in the first place. In the previous section we covered enough stress relievers to last a lifetime, and they are effective.

When the crowd's being stupid, don't follow the crowd. You'll be glad you didn't.

Repeat as needed

Just as we have to eat every day to replenish our body, we have to repeat our stress relief valve when stress builds up. If you think quitting a certain job or getting out of a particular relationship will end feeling stressed out forever, think again.

In today's world, you simply cannot escape stress. There will always be something to irritate you.

We live in a fallen world dominated by brokenness and unfairness. That's why it's crucial to have a safe stress reliever. You'll be using it a lot, and you don't want something that's going to cause more pain than it fixes.

Smart people have a variety of tension-busters. When they're feeling stressed out and one thing doesn't work, they can try another. Sometimes you're too nervous to work on your hobby. Kicking back and listening to your favorite music may be what you need. You can't always take a vacation or mini-vacation when you want. An evening out at a nice restaurant may be a practical substitute.

One final caution. Don't let your relief valves put you in the hole financially. Guard your credit card use. The last thing you need is to go deeply in debt. That, single friend, causes even more stress.

Stress and Christians

Is feeling stressed out a sin? No. It is the inevitable result of living in our modern, high-pressure world. Godly pastors get stressed out too and have to take retreats to regroup. Listen to what Jesus Christ told his followers about it:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your lifeā€¦But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:25, 33-34, NIV)

Instead of "worry," the English Standard Version of the Bible uses the word "anxious," which is a fitting adjective for our culture.

Jesus always encourages us to trust in God. That has been one of the hardest struggles in my own life. We're control freaks at heart. We want to be in charge. We'd rather grab the steering wheel and crash than hand it over to God.

However, praying and trusting God does not absolve us from doing what we can. A wise philosophy for handling stress is to do whatever we can within our control, and in those areas out of our control, to trust God. Sometimes things come out the way we want; sometimes they don't.

Meanwhile, feeling stressed out is an ongoing problem we have to deal with. By having a sensible relief valve, we can defuse it before it gets out of hand.

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