How God Helped Me Overcome Unhealthy, Self-Inflicted Stress
A few weeks ago, I realised that I put way too much pressure on myself—a really unhealthy amount of pressure.
My husband and I were on our way home after a two week holiday, and it dawned on me that a project I had planned to complete before the end of the month just wasn’t going to get done in time. I felt the blood rush to my face and and my breath shortened, while my heartbeat began to race. I thought to myself “I can’t believe I didn’t finish it in time, and I feel like such a failure. I have so much to do and was given so much responsibility. I feel like I’ve let down my family and friends and everyone will think I’m worthless.”
Whoa, that escalated pretty fast! Unfortunately, all too often this is how I speak to myself in my head. I put an impossible burden on my shoulders and expect myself to complete it in a ridiculously short amount of time. And then, when I inevitably miss the mark, I treat myself like garbage.
After sharing my feelings of panic and failure with my husband, I was reminded that I was the one who made the deadline. I wasn’t given a timeline for the project, yet I limited myself to a very short window and condemned myself for not completing it in time.
No one put this expectation on me. No one told me that I “had” to do this all by myself or that if I didn’t get it done at a certain time, then I would fail. I told myself those lies. Because I was so caught up in all my busyness and stress, I couldn’t look into my life and see how unhealthy and repetitive this pattern was.
Of course, I want to be productive and effective in my life, and that’s worth putting in effort. What I question, however, is where was my grace? Why does accomplishing tasks, or “succeeding”, hold such power over me and why did I allow it to determine how I treat myself?
In the New Testament, we see so many examples of Jesus’ love in regards to grace in moments of failure. Take the example of the adulterous woman in John 8: she definitely went against the law by committing adultery, and she was caught in that sin. To the religious leaders, this was unforgivable—punishable by death. They wanted to stone her to death, which is the punishment according to the law of Moses, so they asked Jesus whether or not they should kill her. He replied, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Slowly, one at a time, the accusers drifted away, leaving Jesus standing with the woman in the midst of the crowd. He asked her “‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more’”
Jesus never places value in people’s performance. If He did, that woman would have been killed. To a lot of us, that kind of slip-up—and being accused of it in such a public place—might seem like the ultimate failure. You just can’t recover from that. But Jesus’ response is so revolutionary. What I take away from this is: yes the woman sinned, yes she made a mistake, but who hasn’t? Our Lord is so loving, and patient. Sometimes I think that if I don’t finish an assignment or if I make a box cake instead of homemade, then I’m a failure, and I’m letting God down. However, I’ve begun to understand in my heart what His grace actually looks like in everyday life. I’ve realised that always striving to be the best doesn’t bring you closer to God, and putting too much pressure on yourself can often lead you further away from Him.
Whether you’ve recently failed a test or you have too many responsibilities, there is grace. Maybe you’re like me and you’re so far sucked into your circumstances that you can’t look at your situation and see it. That’s okay!
First and foremost, bring this to God. Lay down all the things that you’re trying to hold onto and ask for His help as you learn to show yourself grace. Next, try surrounding yourself with family, friends or mentors who can provide insight into your life and who genuinely care about you. Communicate openly with them about your commitments and your stress, asking for feedback and accountability. Thirdly, become your own advocate! Learn how to encourage yourself through positive self-talk; start telling yourself things like “Wow, I did a great job”, or “That didn’t work out, but at least I tried my best!” Know your own limitations (time-wise, physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, mentally) and be confident in saying no to projects and favours that you simply cannot do.
Regardless of where we live or work, who our family is, or what our skills are, it is all too easy to put pressure on ourselves. Let’s all remember the grace that Jesus has shown us, and make the changes needed to show ourselves that same grace.
by Fiona Winslade
YWAM Gold Coast Media Staff