I used to blame my painful stress levels on external events and obligations piling up on my desk. I now know that the stress causing my blood pressure to rise is my internal reaction to such events.
My internal stress is caused by:
1. My self-imposed sense of obligation to complete assigned, assumed, or volunteered for tasks.
2. My inability to say, “I’m not able to do that,” because my dad always told me I could do anything I set my mind to.
3. My failure to set boundaries on my work—I enjoy what I do and I’m pretty good at it.
4. My need for the feeling of accomplishment that comes with projects completed.
Even the discouraging events in my life that cause stress, such as the decline and death of my parents or the struggles my kids and friends go through, pull out more than compassion in me:
I carry a sense of obligation to fix a situation so another will be free of pain.
I’m internally a teacher, so I tend to teach others how to handle life rather than let them experience life.
I want to control my external world—my world gets uncomfortable when the messes of others collide with my world.
I don’t think this is a pride issue as much as it is one of obligation—self obligation. Most of my stress comes from self-imposed obligations and it is mostly internal.
Here’s what I have been learning over the past few years:
1. I need to be honest and practical about what I can and can’t do within the boundaries of my work hours and then live within those boundaries. Working overtime steals time from other important things in my life.
2. I don’t have to be available to others, even family, 24/7.
3. I need to be content with things left undone.
4. I need to let others live in their pain without feeling obligated to relieve the pain.
5. I need to remember that just because someone wants to put an obligation on me, I don’t have to pick it up.
6. I need to remember that I can’t control my external world, only my internal world.
7. I need to spend more quiet time with the Lord at the beginning and end of each day.
In reading over the above list, I realized that Jesus practiced all of these things. No one ever experienced such external stress as Jesus. Yet Jesus never experienced worry, anxiety, burnout or other symptoms of internal stress. Spending time with him and reading the Scriptures can teach me more than anything else about dealing with stress.
What have you learned about external and internal stress and how do you handle your internal stress load?
In Him together, Susan Gaddis
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