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Awaken to the Power of Thought

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Suggestions for Dealing with Stress from Sister Joy 

Each year, the American Music Association awards Grammys for the best in music across several genres and categories. This year, it struck me as significant that the winning song in the American Roots category was “CRY” by Jon Batiste. A repetitive lyric in the song laments: “Why sometimes does it seem like all I want to do, all I want to do is cry, cry, cry … .”

This song seems an appropriate winner as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting effects: isolation, vulnerability and anxiety, and the upending of our usual ways of socializing, educating, making a living, and gathering for the holidays. On another front, we now find our hearts wrenched as we witness the violence, brutality and genocide occurring in Ukraine.

Signs of stress

To be human is to have stress. Part of our daily lives, stress (which comes in both positive and negative forms) can manifest in physical, emotional and behavioral ways. If you find yourself consistently tired even after a good night’s sleep, experiencing muscle tension, having a change in appetite or indigestion—these could be physical signs of stress. If you find you are more impatient than usual, irritable, moody, perhaps losing your sense of humor—these could be emotional signs of stress. If you find you are self-medicating with food, alcohol or sugar, procrastinating or experiencing lowered productivity—these could be behavioral signs of stress.

Stress must be dealt with. Various ways people attempt to contain or control stress include:

  • Avoiding the stressor (staying away from the person, issue or event).
  • Altering the stressor (limiting your exposure to it).
  • Adapting to the stressor (changing your attitude about it).

These attempts can be helpful, but they are often labor intensive and can lead to other forms of stress.

Power of thoughts

Yet it is not always the real stress itself that causes problems. Instead, unconscious, major thinking errors on our part often increase or intensify our negative experiences. We can actually use stress as a positive motivator to change an attitude or behavior for the better.

William James, the 19th century American philosopher and psychologist, wrote, “The greatest weapon we have against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

To choose one thought over another—what a powerful statement.

If you find yourself feeling unusually anxious, sad, fearful, frustrated or depressed, try pausing to be aware of the internal scripts your mind latches on to when stressed. Then test them against your reality. Are they helpful or hopeful? If not, choose a new way to shift your thinking and response to stress.

Here are some mental scripts we may recite unconsciously that can intensify stress, as well as some suggestions to help you lessen stress’s debilitating effects. It is my hope that these practical tips help you achieve the ability to manage the stressors that come your way every day.

A Prayer 

Creator Spirit, we thank you and praise you for the power of your peace deep in our hearts, for the vitality of your presence in all that surrounds us.

Yours is a spirit of light, courage and peace.

When we are faced with anxiety, uncertainty or stress of any kind, free us to reimagine, re-vision and embrace new choices that strengthen and empower us to face these challenging times.

Be with us, Creator Spirit, today and always that we might be a reflection of your love and peace for our world.

Sister Joy O’Grady, CSC, is a practicing, licensed marriage and family therapist, who has ministered to clients in the South Bend, Indiana, region since 1983. She holds a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Six Tips to Shift the Negative into the Positive

Catastrophizing” can occur when you feel overwhelmed by a situation. Your internal dialogue might say: “This is terrible! How could this ever happen? How will I live with this?”

Suggestion: Shift your focus away from those thoughts. Name your feelings, validate them, then make a conscious choice for a different and better response. You will feel a sense of empowerment as you begin to understand that you cannot prevent the reality, but you can choose how to deal with it.

“What if-ing” happens when you take a situation or event that could possibly happen and turn it into something that will probably happen. In my experience, we never really know how we will feel or respond to a situation until we are faced with it. Worrying about what might happen is wasted energy.

Suggestion: Empower yourself by preparing for any event as best you can and then let the future emerge.

Filtering is the process of exaggerating the negative while filtering out the positive. Or even the opposite—exaggerating the positive to the exclusion of the negative. Either way, filtering can create stress in our lives.

Suggestion: Most situations, no matter how good or bad, have some aspect of both negativity and positivity. Identifying and naming the positive in a situation or relationship can be empowering and reduce the negative impact of the stressor. You might call it finding the blessing in the burden.

“Can’t stand it-itis” sounds like: “I cannot stand this!” Perhaps the dreaded issue involves wearing a mask, not being able to go out, or not being able to see family and friends.

Suggestion: Start telling yourself, “I don’t like this but here is what I am going to do: I am going to start Zooming with friends and family every week, or I am going to decorate my mask to look pretty or funny,” or whatever you decide about the thing that you “can’t stand.” Tell yourself that you can handle anything if it will keep you and your family safe.

Control Fallacies are delusional. They say things must stay the way they always were, or things must go the way we planned.

Suggestion: Challenge yourself to be creative if something does not go your way. Empower yourself with a plan B. Often, you will discover that plan B works out better than expected, or was more productive, or more fun.

The Change Fallacy tells us: “My happiness, my safety and my value depend on how successful I am at changing others.”

Suggestion: Ask yourself, are you really willing to make your happiness dependent on someone else? Remember that the only one you can really change is yourself.

The Likeableness Fallacy insists that everyone must like us, agree with us, and see things the way we do. If not, we must get upset.

Suggestion: Ask yourself, “Do I like everyone? Do I agree with everything even my friends think?” The answer is probably no, so consider: “Why does everyone have to like me or agree with me?” (Hint: They don’t.)

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This story also appeared in inSpirit magazine. To receive the magazine or the Annual Giving Report, use the button below and fill out our online request form. You can also sign up to receive the online newsletter from the Congregation’s Development Office.