Handling Sleepless, Start-Up Stress

School is now in full swing and so are the stressors that we kick to the back porch all summer long. Vacations, staying up late and enjoying less traffic on the roads is being moved out and the busyness of fall is coming back inside!

I’ve seen a lot of what I like to call, “start-up stress” in my counseling office the past month. People are starting their routines up again and anxious about how the year will turn out.

Sometimes start-up stress can even cause physiological symptoms in our bodies. Maybe we can’t fall asleep or toss and turn all night, worrying about the next day or week. Maybe our appetite decreases and even though our stomach is growling, we have no interest in eating. Sometimes we may even experience pain in our body, in areas where we hold stress and tension, like our necks or backs.

Our bodies hold the stress as our minds become crowded with “what-if” questions.
What if I don’t have any friends to sit with at lunch? -the teenager
What if I can’t keep up with these tough classes and fail? – the college student
What if I can’t handle all that’s on my plate? – the adult
What if…. (you know what yours are) -you

A case of the “what-ifs” will lead anyone down a path of anxiety and worry. So what do we do?

One of the best things we can do for ourselves is realize our part in it all. Yes, life can be stressful, however, more times than not, the expectations we place on ourselves can be the heaviest burden to carry. If we’re not careful, our expectations can become ridiculously high and rigid, making success a requirement versus a celebration.

God knows you’re imperfect. God knows this and still seeks you everyday. He doesn’t put the expectation of being a perfect Christian, parent, spouse, student, employee, friend or you fill in the blank on you. The question is… do you expect that of yourself?

I don’t know about you, but I am really good at being imperfect. I run late often, forget my friends’ birthdays, say hurtful things I don’t mean, and let pride keep me from apologizing. Pretty good at being imperfect.

What I am not good at is extending grace to myself in those imperfect moments. Words like “unacceptable” or “you should’ve done better” creep into my mind. I turn into my worst critic and can be downright mean.

I know I’m not alone. Most of the time we can accept, encourage and forgive others way easier than we can ourselves. It’s natural to do this for others, but what if we were to do the same for ourselves? One way we can start extending grace inward is by changing the way we talk to ourselves.

Next time you’re feeling anxious about a “what-if” scenario, change your question to a statement. Instead of saying “What if I fail at ___”, say “Even if I fail at ___,” and finish your sentence.

“Even if I fail, that’s okay. I’m not perfect and I will choose to be kind to myself.”
“Even if I fail, that doesn’t change who I am. I tried my best and that’s all I can do.”
“Even if I fail, that doesn’t change the fact that I have a savior and eternal joy in Jesus,
who loves me in all of my imperfection.”

If we’re gentle with ourselves and have God leading the way, there is no reason the ending to our statement can’t be full of hope and acceptance.

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:31

Written by: Ashley Hébert

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