Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perception Is Reality: Managing Stress

How do you keep a guy like the Apostle Paul down? Think about it for a minute. If you leave him alone, he'll convert the whole world. If you put him in jail, he converts the jailer. If you put him in prison for years, he writes over half the New Testament. If you threaten him with execution, he tells you you're doing him a favor! You can't keep a guy like that down, and it is all because of one reason.


In my conversations with people about stress, one thing continues to stick out to me. Life depends on our attitudes. It doesn't matter what our circumstances are. What matters is our attitudes to these circumstances. The old adage is, "perception is reality." While I'm not 100% sold on this concept for every situation, I do believe that our perception can alter our reality.

I understand that this is easier said than done. Trust me, I know. When the bank account depletes and the bills grow, it is hard to find a reason to have a good attitude about that. Or what about being a mother-to-be, who is going through a divorce? Where's the silver lining in that thundercloud? It's easy to believe that it doesn't exist. After all, to a person who doesn't worry about altering their perception, a broke check book will never be full enough, and a broken heart will never mend. But notice that both of these problems are found in their perception of the events. Sure, you can work harder or longer hours at work to fill the bank, but again, "more money, more problems." If your perception or attitude about problems is not drastically changed, you're doomed to suffer the same debilitating fate.

Stress is a crusher. There is no doubt about it. In a 10 year study by cardiologists of men aged 35-59, it was found that people who do not properly manage their stress (Type-A personalities) more than double their risk for coronary heart disease. I know this to be true from personal experience. When I worked as a Corrections Officer for the State of Tennessee, I was stressed to the max. In fact, I was 21 years old and taking blood pressure medicine. The fact was, I was not managing my stress. I was allowing my stress manage me.

But let's focus back on Paul. How did Paul manage his stress? If you read any of his letters to the early church, one thing stands out above the rest. Paul did not worry about himself, and if he did, he certainly didn't complain about it. In fact, overwhelmingly, his letters dealt with uplifting, encouraging, and correcting others in their spiritual walk (Phil 4:8). He instructs others to avoid those who would cause stress (Romans 16:17), and rebuked those who created turmoil, regardless of their position in the church (Galatians 2:11). Paul was on the track of living a stress free life.

But how is that possible for a guy who spent almost 4 1/2 years locked up in some form of jail? He recognized the things that were worth his time and effort to change, and the things that weren't. He knew the difference. This was Paul's way of managing stress, and it apparently worked well for him.

So what about you? Do you know the difference? Can you recognize the things you can change, and those you cannot? Are you managing stress, or is stress managing you? When it comes to managing stress, each person is different in what works for them. But each person must find that 'thing'. What are you doing to affect your perception toward your reality? 

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