06.01.20

BY Mark Clark

10 Ways to Come Back From Stress

My friend Carey Nieuwhof wrote a book a few years ago called Didn’t See it Coming. In it, he admits he went through a kind of burnout and stress that was so heavy that it led him to consider some pretty dark ways out.

By God’s grace he got through that time and came out the other side stronger. As a pastor, I am talking with a lot of people in this season who are feeling the same kinds of things that Carey describes his darkest moments to be like. A kind of wearing down emotionally and spiritually.

He says you can spot an unhealthy version of yourself because it looks like a few different things:

  • Your passion fades
  • You don’t feel the highs and lows anymore
  • Little things make you overly emotional
  • Everybody drains you
  • You’re becoming cynical
  • Nothing satisfied you
  • You can’t think straight
  • Your productivity is dropping
  • You are self medicated
  • You don’t laugh anymore
  • Sleep and time off no longer refuel you

These are ten signs that things aren’t firing on all cylinders for you. And in this moment of social isolation, I am seeing more and more people feel these symptoms. So what do we do? Carey lays out a plan that is very practical which I want to share with you so you can get back on track. Here are the ten things you should do to fight back out of whatever dark place you find yourself.

  1. Tell Someone. Swallow your pride and let someone else in to the stress and anxiety you feel. Someone you trust. Nothing good happens when you are isolated. When you admit it to others, you finally end up admitting it to yourself.
  2. Develop a circle around you. Friends who remind us that “Tomorrow the sun will rise” make all the difference. You need people who believe in you when you’ve stopped believing in yourself. 
  3. Keep leaning into God. The Psalms are filled with pain and isolation and fear and anxiety. At the same time, they run headlong into God, not away from him. Don’t give yourself permission to quit your faith. Read when you don’t feel like reading. Pray when it’s hard. Keep going. Just because you can’t feel God’s love doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.
  4. Rest. Read the Gospels. Jesus took naps. Sometimes it’s the most spiritual thing you can do. 70% of discipleship is a good night’s sleep. You know when things seem bigger and scarier at night before bed? That’s not just because its dark and quiet outside versus sunny and active, it’s because we are tired.
  5. Find something to take your attention away from your pain. The problem with this COVID moment is that when we slow down our pace, often we only have our pain to focus on. And pain is selfish, it always demands our attention. Watch a movie. Go for a hike. Refuse to feel sorry for yourself. Not giving up on life helps you get back into life. 
  6. Don’t make any big decisions. In this state, often we are tempted to do things that can ruin our lives and the lives of those we love. Don’t do those things. Do not quit your job. Do not buy a sports car. Do not cheat on your spouse. Do not make any drastic changes or moves right now if you are in a season of stress and anxiety and ‘dark night of the soul’.
  7. Grieve your losses. Life can be a series of un-grieved losses. It’s hard to know what to do with our losses. The dreams and plans that aren’t happening right now — grieve them. Admit it sucks — it’s part of healing. In the Bible, why do they take 40 days to grieve the death of Moses? Can’t they just go to the funeral and go back to work after? There is something about grieving that makes life on the other side more than.
  8. Reopen your heart. This will end. When you feel cynicism and numbness entering your life – maybe you already have – don’t give up and think “this is the way it is now”. Commit to reopen yourself to encouragement, hope and the idea of a preferred future. So many of you have experienced broken trust in relationships or more that have caused you to be hurting. Don’t give up on humanity. There are so many good and trustworthy people. Find them and trust again.
  9. Live today in a way that will help you thrive tomorrow. Think of trying to get in shape. You eat right. Think right. Work out and it produces results months later. Do the things today that produce results that you will only see tomorrow. Invest in the future by changing up patterns of thought and life starting today. Make sure you are on point in all five areas of life (spiritual, emotional, relational, physical and financial). Tomorrow will be something to look forward to in this moment of darkness.
  10. Believe the gospel. Jesus went through the pain and agony of a kind of dark night of the soul himself. He was a ‘man of sorrows’, in our place, so that you and I don’t need to experience that reality forever. For seasons of life, sure. But Jesus died and rose again and offers us a new creation life in the present. Take it, believe it. And look and work toward the joy he brings through the power of his work (Gal. 5:22-23).