I often get questions about how to reduce stress and manage overwhelm. As part of this series about the most common questions I’m asked by Christian women about mindset, today I’m talking about how to renew your thoughts and feel God’s peace.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN:
- [1:55] The connection between mindset and stress management
- [6:20] The brain science behind stress reduction
- [8:12] How the brain intersects with faith to renew your thoughts
- [11:36] Controlling your thoughts to reduce stress and manage overwhelm
- [13:37] Practical tips for stress responses
- [14:49] Noticing and acknowledging what is causing stress and overwhelm
- [16:21] Having compassion for yourself during stressful situations
- [18:57] Letting your emotional self be heard
- [24:09] Comforting your emotional self with God’s truth
- [27:10] Discerning what to let go of and what to pick up for stress management
- [33:27] The ongoing process of stress reduction
[1:55] The connection between mindset and stress management
Marilyn sent me this question: “How does our mindset affect our stress levels? I guess what I’m wondering is, am I more susceptible to not being able to handle stress well when my mindset is wrong? We all have stress in our lives and yet some are able to handle it much more gracefully than others. How does our mindset come into play with stress management?”
Well, I think we can all agree that having a mind that isn’t spinning in overwhelm, “what ifs”, shame, anxiety, overthinking, and frustration can make it easier for us to handle stress. Let’s talk about why it’s understandable that when we are feeling more stress, it is harder to feel God’s peace. In addition, let’s talk about what we can do to better manage our minds to be able to let go of some of that stress and to handle things with more grace.
As we know, we are not going to escape this life without stress. There will always be some new challenge to work through. That was a lie I had to really confront when I started working through my own mindset issues. I had it in my head that I would eventually reach a place where I would not have any problems. I mistakenly believed that God would save me from all these things I was going through, and He would give me a problem-free life.
Sometimes I still find myself falling for that lie in little ways. I’ll catch myself thinking about “when we get through this season” or “when this child graduates” or “when this happens”. The truth is, there will always be stress. There will always be things happening that are depressing and sad. I think we need to be real. The only time we are going to have that full relief from all of our problems is when we get to Heaven.
So, how do we simultaneously accept that we are going to have problems while also understanding and living in this promise from God to give us abundant life (John 10:10). I want to talk today about how to reach further toward that abundant life, and toward a less stressful life, by thinking about some of these mindset issues, managing our thoughts, and thinking about the brain science behind it. We will also look at the biblical side, because I want to help all of us get to that place where we can learn practical ways to let go of old mindsets and welcome in a new mindset. We can have more peace and less stress. We will have trials, but we can handle them differently.
We can only control our own perspectives. I’m sure you can think of a lot of stressors over which you have had no control. I know I have walked through unemployment, sickness, children with special needs, homeschooling with a husband who travels frequently, and even sudden death – we had a family member very close to us who was lost to COVID last year. The question is: How are we going to choose to respond to it and praise God for giving us tools, understanding, wisdom, and things that we can actively do to relieve some of the stress that comes from life’s uncertainties and craziness?
[6:20] The brain science behind stress reduction
We have discussed before that whatever we focus on in the brain is repeated. It is a supercomputer, absorbing data at all times. It wants to streamline, and it will make paths easier and faster if they are used often. This is helpful to think about when creating habits, because we need to create those grooves in our brains. It can be super frustrating and annoying when we end up repeating negative thoughts over and over. The brain begins spinning, and the negative thoughts play on repeat.
With those repetitions, other parts of the brain get involved. The fight or flight response is activated, as the brain perceives a threat. In Episode 156, we talked about how this might encourage us to do something we don’t want to do – some sort of self-sabotaging behavior to minimize pain and fear and provide comfort. The logical mind goes offline because the brain is designed to protect us. We focus on the bad, it gets repeated in our heads and becomes more vivid.
[8:12] How the brain intersects with faith to renew your thoughts
The other thing we need to understand is how our brain intersects with our faith, and the rest and peace that God is trying to give. Despite the problems with our mindsets of worry and control, He wants to give us that abundant life. These are understandable responses as humans, because we are trying to understand our world. We are not here to yell at ourselves for that, but it is really challenging from a brain-based perspective to be able to find the rest and peace that God gives.
I like to think of God Himself, His character and all of the gifts He gives – the fruits of the spirit – as like a radio tower that is broadcasting a signal all over the world. It is present. It is clear. It is awesome. It is everywhere. Radio towers are incredible, but their ability to be heard depends on the receiver. We, being individual receivers, have the ability to hear that message, absorb that message, and receive that message in different ways based on how it is coming into our system.
If we have embedded in our minds that we can’t do certain things because they will cause our fear response, or that we need to do certain things to make others happy, that is going to get in the way of that pure radio tower signal that God is sending out. He can be sending it out, but there can be static or interference on the line. If we have less than one bar on our phones, we are not going to be able to hear each other. God can break through these things, and He often does, but we also play a part in it and how well we are receiving the message. It is our job to keep those receivers clean by removing thoughts that prevent us from hearing God.
We are called to take our thoughts captive and renew our minds. We are called to step out and actively pursue the things of God. That starts with understanding the thoughts behind our actions. This static that is there, so often is static that we have built into our lives. I believe we have the responsibility and the gift of being able to manage that static.
[11:36] Controlling your thoughts to reduce stress and manage overwhelm
We are out of control of much that happens in life, but we can control how we respond. Part of that response is our mindset and how we manage those things that are inside of us. God promises that when we manage our thoughts, beautiful things happen.
Isaiah 26:3 says, You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
When our thoughts are fixed on God, that results in very different decision-making and very different states of mind. It results in a different response because the thought is different.
Philippians 4:8 says, Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.
We have the control to fix our thoughts on what we want to focus on. We talk about this concept in the Christian Mindset Makeover, and I like to call it the air traffic controller. We are the air traffic controllers of our minds, and we get to decide which thoughts are going to be there. We decide what we focus on, and whether we are going to keep spinning in circles or release that and let that go to God. Being able to decide what to focus on is a gift, and I believe it’s the key to being able to manage our minds and respond differently to the inevitable stress.
[13:37] Practical tips for stress responses
So, let’s talk about what some practical takeaways would be here. We have to talk first about what our natural first response is when we have negative thoughts, or are worried or scared in some way. Often, our first response is to yell at ourselves. We don’t believe God is going to take care of us, when of course God will help us through. We skipped so many steps there to get to that truth, and the underlying steps are what truly makes the difference. That is where the healing comes in.
[14:49] Noticing and acknowledging what is causing stress and overwhelm
Our first response cannot be to tell ourselves to stop stressing and to just get over it. All that does is start a battle in our heads between the intellectual self and the emotional self. A lot of this happens on a subconscious level and we need to begin to peel back the layers and see what is there.
That first peeling back is noticing and acknowledging what is going on in our lives and trying to identify the root behind it. We can be very specific with the words we are using because sometimes we just think we’re “tired”. Well, are we fatigued physically? Emotionally drained? Intellectually shut off? Those are all different things that are happening in our bodies, so learning to acknowledge what is going on and what is causing it is huge.
[16:21] Having compassion for yourself during stressful situations
Once we notice and acknowledge what is going on, then compassion is key. We need to see it as reasonable when our brains feel tired or stressed. By examining the negative thoughts that have been running through our brains on repeat, we can have compassion for the emotional self. The emotional side of our mind needs to be heard. It needs to be understood, and to be known as plausible. When we yell at ourselves for feeling stressed, the emotional self shuts down and doesn’t release the negative emotions.
I know some of us are resistant or hesitant to give the emotional self room at the table, so to speak. We think that there is a lot going on in there and we don’t even want to touch it. If we haven’t listened to our emotional self very closely before, or if we have shut her down pretty regularly, it might take some time for her to share all that is going on.
[18:57] Letting your emotional self be heard
When I was doing this work and healing inside of me around achievement mentality, perfectionism, and hustle culture, I worked with a coach and we talked about the different parts of myself: emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical. My spiritual self was always really strong. My physical self was exhausted. My intellectual self was always buzzing – she was just tired because she was constantly on. My emotional self, I had shut down because she was inconvenient. She had gotten in the way of a lot of stuff that I needed to do. I had plans, I had boxes to check, and I didn’t have time to listen to the whining of the emotional self.
That is how I saw it, and I want us all to understand that it is normal. A lot of us have avoided talking about these deeper things, because we are afraid of pressing into something that is scary to talk about. The healing does come. It’s okay to open up these messy places and hear it without judging it.
One day I was talking to my coach and I said I didn’t even know what the emotional self had to say because she was so shut down. My coach told me to imagine that I was taking the emotional self into a very quiet, special place where she can feel safe. She told me to imagine that Christ was sitting right next to her with His arm around her. He wasn’t sitting there to tell anyone how to fix their problems or how to fix what she was feeling. He was sitting there and saying He was sorry. He understands how hard it is to carry that.
That is what broke through to my emotional self. That is what finally allowed me to understand. I needed to know that she was safe and that I was safe in God. All of that to say, if you feel apprehensive or anxious even thinking about your emotional self, it is worth it.
A huge part of what we do in the Christian Mindset Makeover is to really understand those emotions in us. There is a lot of space for processing and understanding why we feel these things, what happened in our past that caused it, what is triggering it now, and what to do about it, of course. Before we get to do the part of fixing and helping it, we really have to sit in compassion and healing.
[24:09] Comforting your emotional self with God’s truth
Finally, we need to comfort the emotional self with God’s truth. Asking our emotional self, or the part of the self that is really feeling that stress, what the self really needs. Does the physical self need sleep? Does the emotional self need to be heard and known? Does the intellectual self need a break? We can let the power of the mind and the brain heal our bodies.
We have the gift of a mind that can analyze ourselves and pinpoint exactly what it is we need. So often, the answer is comfort – especially if it is an emotional issue. The promise of God, and the foundational truth of God’s love and acceptance of us, is the fact that He doesn’t leave us. He is with us, and we have purpose and meaning. We are heard and known, and we have a future that is secure in Heaven.
We have a whole list of over 50 statements in the Christian Mindset Makeover that talk about what we are in Christ and the foundation in these truths. When we focus on those truths, that is when we can find God’s peace. That is when stress dissipates and we can manage the ups and downs with a lot more grace and flexibility. In order to get this secure foundation, we have to heal at the root. We have to learn to let go, and that is not done in one day. That is a process, which again is why a mindset makeover takes some time and processing. The effects, however, are unbelievable. If the Christian Mindset Makeover is resonating with you, please join me there.
[27:10] Discerning what to let go of and what to pick up for stress management
After we have been comforted by God’s truth, there comes this discernment and release that needs to happen. We need to surrender and ask ourselves what we need to let go of and what we need to pick up in order to reduce stress.
To provide a bit of tough love, we get ourselves into a lot of the stress that we feel. We choose to take on extra responsibilities, and we choose to do things to please others. Those responses are often driven by subconscious thoughts and patterns, so healing in those places can make such a big difference. Often we know what we need to do, but we aren’t willing to do it. So we have to decide what we are doing to perpetuate the behavior.
The other side of it is that there are many things happening in our lives that we did not cause. We may not have any ability to control it, especially if it involves other people. Understanding where we end in terms of responsibility and God begins can be so freeing when it comes to stress. It can also help us with acceptance. There are so many things that we stress about, and if we could just learn to accept it as part of what is right now it would bring us so much freedom and release.
For example, my husband and I have now walked through two seasons of unemployment that were not precipitated by anything to do with his performance. It was frightening, and we couldn’t understand why we weren’t seeing the results we wanted. We had to accept that things were outside our control, we didn’t know when the unemployment would end, and that we didn’t know how God was going to provide. We just had to accept that He would take care of us, and He was more than faithful to do that.
One of our kids is currently going through a season of fighting what is expected of him. He is stuck in grumbling and complaining about what is fair, and it is keeping him from peace and acceptance. How often do we get stuck in that? We can all get stuck in what we think isn’t fair or right, when God is broadcasting peace, love, and joy through that radio tower. He wants to give us compassion and comfort, and we aren’t letting it through because we are spinning in these stress cycles. So, we need to really think about what we need to let go of and what we need to accept and trust.
[33:27] The ongoing process of stress reduction
This is an ongoing process, because something is always going to be happening. The good news is that, while stress will be there, we don’t have to live in the chaos of negative thoughts. We have a choice in how we respond to stress. We can approach it with compassion, comfort, and surrender. We can remind ourselves that God is sending out faithfully the peace and love, and we need to do our best to keep our receivers clear by managing our thoughts.
Managing our thoughts is not a one and done process, and it’s often driven by these subconscious thoughts. That is the point of the Christian Mindset Makeover and I highly encourage you to check it out. We would love to have you in there. I would love to work with you through this process of finding harmony, the gift of understanding our minds from a Biblical perspective, and then using proven techniques to heal the mind.
OTHER PODCAST EPISODES ON REDUCING STRESS:
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