It is self-evident that thinking is not biology, but it seems that biology can be affected by thinking. For years, the medical community has recognized the mind-body connection to physical health. This connection is called psychosomatic and refers to the way that our thinking can impact our health. Harold Koenig (2002) provides an interesting summary of research on the way autoimmune disorders, such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Graves disease, and multiple sclerosis, are negatively affected by psychosocial stress (p. 174). Stress is known to be physically harmful and there is evidence to suggest that stress management can positively impact the treatment of diseases like diabetes (p. 186). Stress involves what takes place in our minds, or thinking, and our minds have a role in reducing stress.
If stress management is important in improving both health and behavior, then how can people manage their stress? One way is to use basic cognitive techniques that focus on our faulty thinking. A good example can be found in the book, Stress Inoculation Training, by Donald Meichenbaum (1985). Another way is to recognize that stress reduction is a byproduct of biblical religion. The Bible says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Our gentleness should “be evident to all” (v. 5) and we are commanded not to “be anxious” (v. 6).
When we talk about stress we are really talking about our response to difficult, irritating, or disruptive events in our lives. Stressful events are a fact of life and they cannot be avoided. There are the daily frustrations of living, like having a flat tire or major exam, and there are major life events, like getting married, changing jobs, or moving to a new location. Some life events can be even more stressful, like the death of a spouse, chronic illness, going to prison, or being in combat. Events that activate stress are not all negative. For example, getting married, having a baby, changing jobs, or moving to a new location may be very positive but still stressful. It is our perception of stressful events, however, that causes us to think, feel, and behave in certain ways that are harmful to ourselves and others.
I recommend three intervention techniques for successfully managing life’s stressors. First, emphasize the B in the ABC principle and focus on your thinking. It is our perception of stressful events and not the events themselves that cause us the most difficulty. Recognize distorted beliefs and avoid catastrophic thinking; that is, do not make a mountain out of a molehill. Reframe the daily stress of living by viewing things positively; for example, when you are frustrated, think of the old saying, “A pearl is the result of an oyster’s victory over an irritation.” Recognize what happens to your mind, body, and feelings when you experience a stressful event. Explain to yourself what is taking place so that you can deal with it effectively.
Second, focus on your faith. Develop a faith perspective rather than an event perspective. Events should be viewed in the context of the greater picture, as in Paul’s question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). So, if you are experiencing stress in your life, ask yourself the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Is it death? As Christians, we should be prepared for death. If you are not prepared for the worst thing that can happen, you will always have anxiety about the future. Most of the time, however, the worst thing that can happen is only a remote possibility. In addition, our faith in God should lead us to be more positive, tolerant, forgiving, and thankful. These characteristics increase our ability to manage stress.
Finally, develop your spiritual side and get connected with your inner self. Learn to stand outside of yourself and view life from a larger, more objective perspective. If you find that your stress comes from pursuing the goals you have set for yourself, then think about reevaluating the priorities of your life, or viewing success and failure differently than you have in the past.
J B Myers