Lost in a Sea of Stress

Surviving 8 Common types of loss to feel strong again

By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach

“Lost at sea”. Words you often hear in a coastal state like Florida, but words you never want to hear because it means another sad ending to what should have just been a fun day enjoying the ocean. Sometimes there are heroic rescues at sea when the US Coast Guard can find those who have become stranded at sea, but sometimes they call off the search and scared family members know that they may never see those loved ones again.

Maybe you feel like that right now; just drifting and lost in a sea of stress. Perhaps it is financial loss, maybe job stress, or marriage and family conflicts that come at you like a tsunami of stress. Whatever the stress I want you to know that it won’t get better by itself. In fact stress tends to get worse until there is a crisis that forces you to seek help to just come and rescue you from all the pressure. If you feel this way you are not alone. A Harris research survey found that 1 in 5 people feel overloaded with stress every single day!

Little waves of Stress build up from lots of loss
Major stress often starts out small, like gentle waves at the beach, which is why we don’t think about it much until it’s an out of control flood of problems. When life comes at you like a powerful wind, those gentle little waves of stress become huge and cause you to sink. If these daily life problems came at you one at a time you could handle it, but when they are bunched together in clusters and seem to be coming at you from a dozen different directions at once it feels like more than anyone could handle… that’s when you know you are on stress overload and possibly drowning in a sea of stress.

Face it, daily stress affects every area of our lives and to some degree affects everybody, but not always in the same way. According to the Harris Poll cited earlier, 75% of people said they felt some to lots of stress, while 23% experienced lots of stress every day. Their research covered the 14 most common daily pressures that are believed to cause stress overload, like finances to being worried about health to feeling disconnected and lonely in relationships. And the stress from sudden and unexpected loss, (like losing a job or house or being diagnosed with a major illness), is the biggest pressure of all and it affects our ability to cope at every level. In fact, Dr. Cary Cooper, a professor at Lancaster University in Great Britain, described it this way, “Stress as a health issue is probably the Black Plague of the 21st century.”

Stress in one area can affect all areas of life
Unresolved stress can lead to burnout because the pressures and problems that can build up in one area of life tend to spill over into all other areas of life. Which means that not dealing with stress and pressure in one area of life will eventually have a negative impact on the other areas of life like energy level, relationships, health, sleep, career, money, schedules, daily life or even harm our emotional and sense of spiritual well-being.

Stress compounds the amount of internal psychological pressure that we have to deal with, whether we like it our not. That’s why we tend to avoid it, which only makes it worse because unresolved daily life stress can lead to an explosive level of panic and tension or if we choose to deal with it, these same pressures can be quickly solved to bring you to a position of greater peace and strength inside.

Before we look at the most common types of stress, let’s examine the most common type of loss that make any stress or pressure harder to manage.

8 Most Common Types of Stressful Loss

1) Duty- Loss of job or role from corporate down-sizing or empty nest syndrome

2) Debt- Financial insecurity or fears, feelings of failure over financial instability

3) Discipline- Loss of self control in body-care, addictive or secret life issues, includes angry rage & impulse control issues

4) Dreams- to give up on hopes, plans, goals and the desire for more in life

5) Drive- Loss of motivation and drive from apathetic feelings of ‘Who cares’
6) Divorce- loss of marriage, family and other relationships

7) Descendants- of children or grandchildren from broken families, which includes distant, broken or dysfunctional relationships

8) Death- to lose those close to you from disease, accidents, violence or age

Which type of loss are you facing today? And more importantly, what are you doing to manage those losses, so that they don’t overwhelm you like a massive stressful wave that hits when you least expect it? Remember, any form of loss creates a cumulative form of stress and pressure. If enough losses build up, you will feel overloaded, and eventually feel ‘lost at sea’ with no hope of rescue. Stress researcher, David Posen, MD, describes the problem this way, “The problem causing stress is the rate of change in the modern world. You almost have no time to adjust to one change before the next one comes along.” Think of it as a process that looks like this flow chart:

Life causes Change
Change is Stressful
Stress creates Loss
Loss leads to Grief or Growth

We grow the strongest as we tackle issues to move forward through the stress and pressure to face our fears and go to an even deeper level of insight and maturity. So, if your goal in life is to try and do everything possible to avoid stress and pressure then in some ways your goal is short-sighted, because it is going to leave you weaker and more immature than others who face the stress with God’s help to grow stronger and become more of the person they were designed to be. Stress and pressure are a part of life for everyone. Facing it straight up to grow stronger is a choice, and it’s a choice that you and I can make every time a wave of stress comes our way.

Stress comes from feeling out of control
Here’s a foundational insight about moving beyond the normal changes of life to overcome stress and avoid burnout- you have more control than you think. You really do have a great deal more power to change than you could ever imagine. The Bible teaches a timeless principal about managing stress when it says, to “Count it all joy when trials and challenges come along,” (James 1:2). This is because the trials and challenges force us to deal with our character issues by growing and changing. A great deal of the pressures and problems in our lives is based on our perspective about those issues. Do you see those pressures and problems as something terrible that will only break you down and leave you weaker or as a positive pressure that will blast away insecurities and fears to push you toward reaching your potential?

Stress affects everyone from the cradle to the grave, which is good news for some and not so good news for others. The not so good news is only that there isn’t a place on this planet where you won’t have to deal with stress because it will never go away…it’s just part of life. If you see this as bad news, please balance it with the very good news that it’s a perfectly normal part of growing through every stage of life. Yes, I said perfectly normal because everyone has to deal with stress if they want to grow strong. It just feels overwhelming when there is too much in too short a period of time, and with the rapid pace of life these days, we are all prone to carry too much stress inside.

Stress warning symptoms
How can you tell if you are on stress ‘overload’ instead of just having a bad day? Take a minute to check off any of the following stress symptoms you have felt on a regular basis over the last month or so. The more symptoms you are experiencing in your physical, behavioral, emotional, relational or spiritual life, the greater the likelihood that you are being overwhelmed with stress leading to burnout or exhaustion, instead of growing stronger on the other side of stress. (Remember, some of these symptoms may indicate serious health problems and should be checked out by your medical doctor or by a qualified healthcare professional).

PHYSICAL or BEHAVIORAL STRESS SYMPTOMS:
__ Loss of Energy __ Sleep loss or Insomnia
__ Fatigue __ Listless or in a mental ‘fog’
__ Dry Mouth __ Ulcers
__ Headaches __ Migraines
__ Smoking __ Rapid/shallow breathing
__ No Appetite __ Alcohol or drug abuse to cope
__ Caffeine dependence __ Inability to rest
__ Over-eating __ High blood pressure
__ Hyper-tension __ I.B.S./Colitis
__ “Nervous energy” __ Tightness in chest or heart palpitations
__ Chronically sick __ Accelerated heart rate
__ Decreased libido __ Chronic joint pain
__ No time to relax __ Unkempt physical appearance
__ Chronic back pain __ Nightmares or night terrors
__ Restlessness __ Cries easily or can’t cry at all
__ Increased health worries __ Muscle tension (neck/shoulders/jaw)
__ Skin disorders __ Fainting or feeling like you will faint
__ Abdominal pain __ Sweating or really cold hands/feet
__ Nausea or diarrhea __ Increased cold or flu symptoms

EMOTIONAL or RELATIONAL STRESS SYMPTOMS:
__ Difficulty concentrating __ Uneasiness or nervousness
__ Defensive __ Easily angered
__ Withdrawal from others __ Criticism or Sarcasm
__ Holding problems inside __ TV addiction-Soaps, Sports, Sitcoms
__ Self-consciousness __ Anxiety or panic
__ Apathy __ Avoidance of emotions (esp. fear)
__ Financial worries __ Living in the past or future
__ Short temper __ “Clinging” or dependent behavior
__ No sense of humor __ Not sharing burdens with others
__ Feeling hopeless __ Over-committed or life is out of balance
__ Feeling helpless __ Life seems out of control
__ Trouble making decisions __ Feelings of failure
__ Forgetfulness __ “Type A” driven personality
__ Impatience __ Elevated shame or guilt
__ Unresolved loss or grief __ State of alarm
__ Tension __ Depression or overwhelming sadness
__ Irritability __ Apprehension or confusion
__ Overwhelmed __ Impulsive Decisions
__ Perfectionism __ Diminished productivity
__ Restlessness __ Easily distracted

SPIRITUAL STRESS SYMPTOMS:
__ Avoiding spiritual needs __ Loss of faith
__ No time to pray __ Increased doubts
__ Inner turmoil __ Spiritual aloneness
__ No peace or contentment __ Spiritual emptiness
__ No day of rest __ Tremendous anger at God
__ Unresolved past guilt __ Lack of inner peace
__ God seems a “million miles away” __ Believing that everyone is a hypocrite


The more warning indicators that are identified in a single category or across multiple categories, the more that person may be in a stress ‘overload’ situation. However, if only a few of these stress-related symptoms are present, then don’t worry about it. Life stress is common, so if only one or two symptoms are present, it is not usually a cause for alarm, but it is a sign that you are alive!

Moving from Stress to Strength
Once you have identified the primary factors that are fueling your stress, then it’s time to take positive action to change. Some situations are so complex that you can’t work out of it by yourself, but you can take action to move in the right direction. Do this by talking openly about what’s causing your pressure with others. Even if you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about your problems, you can pray about it, or write down your thoughts in a journal. Remember, no one can solve all their problems alone so don’t be afraid to reach out to the people around you who can help, like pastors, doctors, counselors or call a hotline, (you can call the number 211 in many cities to be connected to social service agencies that are available to help with many daily life stressors). You can always do something positive to face the stress and pressure in your life, but you have to decide to take action now before the pressure increases and things get worse.

Here are a number of proactive steps you can take every day to build your personal energy level with the use of stress coping strategies. The more positive actions you take, the faster you will move from stress to strength as you implement the skills necessary to make your life work better.

PHYSICAL & BEHAVIORAL STRESS COPING SKILLS:
__ Sleep (7-9 hours) __ Balanced diet
__ Regular meals __ Deep breathing
__ Regular exercise __ Tense/relax muscles
__ Hugs/affection __ Regular daily routines
__ Massage __ Plenty of water
__ Medical checkups or physicals __ Medication (prescribed by your MD)
__ Quiet times of rest or naps __ Get out into the sunshine
__ Brisk walking __ Organize time and schedule
__ Learn to use a planner __ Regular bedtime
__ Allow extra time to do things __ Simplify your lifestyle
__ Get rid of clutter __ Delegate or delete low priority events
__ Learn to organize tasks __ Leave earlier to avoid traffic jams

EMOTIONAL & RELATIONAL STRESS COPING SKILLS:
__ Personal planning time __ Positive relationships
__ Build positive esteem __ Share your burdens
__ Support groups __ Counseling
__ Deal directly with problems __ Talk openly about anger
__ Honestly face fears __ Laugh and have fun
__ Relax with family/friends __ Reading
__ Learn to say “No” __ Short term goals
__ Hobbies/activities __ Take on new challenges
__ Learn something new __ Leave work at work
__ Do good for others __ Victory list of achievements
__ Pace yourself __ Control spending with a budget
__ Journaling __ Manage your moods

SPIRITUAL STRESS COPING SKILLS:
__ Bible Study __ Apply biblical principles to life
__ Prayer __ Church socials or recreational events
__ Meditation __ Regular worship in a house of faith
__ Inspirational music __ Join a supportive church group
__ Memorize scripture __ Observe a day of rest
__ Spiritual landmarks __ Keep priorities balanced
__ Inspirational books __ Realize God loves you
__ “Re-create” Spiritual energy __ Listen to inspirational messages
__ Express more gratitude __ Experience quiet times with God
__ Spiritual concert events __ Spiritual workshops or classes
__ Forgive to really live __ Practice acts of random kindness

Here’s another way to look at it. Many people stay stuck in the sea of stress and never feel in control of their life. They are like the left side of this list of common stress reactions. Others make the choice to ask for help and take bold action to make positive chances, and they are like the list on the right. As you read through them, identify which side describes you.

Stressful Loss creates one of two emotional reactions:
Bitter or Better ?
Critical or Creative ?
Procrastinate or Purposeful ?
Resentful or Resourceful?
Run-away or Resolve ?
Give up or Grow up?

I love the attitude of singer Gloria Gaynor, when she was asked how she had survived so many set-backs in her life and career. Listen to the wisdom of her words. “I have survived because after long years of loneliness, and insecurity, and lack of self-esteem, I learned to hand all of my burdens over to the Lord, and now I survive in His strength. “ She had found a spiritual source of strength that was bigger than the Coast Guard, she had found her safe place in the storm.

This leads to a wonderful stress management principle I learned many years ago. D=D. It stands for Deity = Direction, and means that your source of spiritual power from God sets the pace of your direction in life. You may have heard Psalms 23, which is referred to as the ‘shepherds psalm’ which starts out with those classic words, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.’ If you haven’t read it in a while, pick up a copy of the Bible and check it out since you will find great comfort and peace in having a rock solid sense of spiritual direction in the middle of your stressful storm.

Finally, remember the old saying, that “Things come to pass – not stay”. No matter what problems you are facing today, they will eventually pass. If you are on the right road, moving in the right direction, you will get the right results. It is my hope that you will begin right now to build positive stress coping skills into your daily life and routines so that you can spend your time and energy really living life instead of feeling beat up by it.

You can’t control the fact that stress comes into your life, but you can control how you manage it and how you will respond to the pressures and problems that daily life throws your way. With fear and dread or by facing it head on with discipline and determination. One path leads to exhaustion and the other to being better equipped as a person of greater character and strength. It’s time to choose a path- choose wisely and your life and health will be better or choose poorly and live in quiet desperation. I challenge you to let today be your time to take bold action to live better as you move past your stress to live at a new level of success.

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About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

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