Let the Word Speak!

Individual Differences

Why do some individuals handle stress better than others?

Negative, damaging stress is to a large extent what we perceive it to be, so what one perceives as entrapping and stressful varies by person. This difference can be observed in how some people eagerly embrace life changes like starting a new job or relocating while others are almost debilitated by such a significant change. So, what are the traits that some people have that make stress less of an issue in their lives?

Personality Traits and Coping Styles

  • How much do you laugh vs. how serious are you?
  • How prone are you to fits of anger at frustrating circumstances?
  • How social are you – do you open up or close up to stress?
  • How effectively do you balance between work life and home life?
  • Is the proverbial glass half-empty or half-full?
  • How easily do you say “no”?
  • How strong is your need for recognition and acceptance? How do you satisfy this need?
  • Do you have hobbies — unrelated to your work? Do you enjoy these hobbies, and why?

May of these questions delineate within what researchers have called “Type A” personality traits, which show a lifestyle characterized by impatience, time urgency, competitiveness, a preoccupation with deadlines—and an increased likelihood of coronary heart disease.

As we think about these questions, let us think about personality traits that Jesus exhibited, recorded in the gospels:

Laughter and Humor
It’s hard to recognize first-century humor today, but Jesus joked with others. One particularly touching exchange is in Matthew 15:22-28, where Jesus talks with a gentile woman from Canaan who asks for healing for her daughter. Jesus, knowing her heart and her faith, comments that his ministry is focused on the Israelites, and asks if bread should be taken from the children and given to the dogs. With wit, she responds that while Jesus speaks truth, the dogs do wind up eating the crumbs. Surely Jesus laughed at this response, and healed the woman’s daughter because of her faith.
Anger and Frustration
Jesus did show anger, as when he drove those that sold animals for sacrifice out of the temple in John 2:13-17 and elsewhere. In that passage, the disciples recalled the prophesy in Psalm 69:9 that the Messiah would show great zeal for God’s house. But Jesus showed purpose and perspective in his anger, not fits of frustration. In the episodes in his life that would drive us to dispair—Peter coaching Jesus to be more politically savvy, his disciples arguing about which of them was the greatest, the religious leaders making up charges against him – Jesus showed not frustration or anger, but sadness, compassion, and purpose.
Social Participation
The most striking example of Jesus’ wise use on companionship was his actions at the Last Supper and his time of prayer in Gethsemene. I cannot conceive of what comfort Jesus could have taken in eating his last meal with Judas Iscariot, who would betray him, or in going to pray with Simon Peter, who would deny knowing him, but Jesus chose to have his disciples with him at this time.
Balance between Work Life and Home Life
Jesus routinely went away from the crowds to pray and meditate, as in Matthew 14:23 after the feeding of the 5000. Jesus also must have given the disciples time “off the road” in the three years of his ministry, for we find Jesus coming to Peter’s house and healing Peter’s mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14-17.
Optimism
The scriptures don’t show Jesus as either a strong optimist or pessimist. Instead, they portray the Son of God showing heaven-inspired wisdom and grace to all around. Still, in Luke 9:49-50, John protests that someone outside of their circle was healing others in Jesus’ name, and Jesus responded that if this man wasn’t against Jesus, he was for him!
Saying “No”
Jesus chose the steps in his ministry carefully. Some were obvious, like in John 6:15, where in response to premature enthusiasm from the crowd, he withdrew by himself. Other choices are more subtle, as in John 5:1-9, when there were a “multitude” of disabled people, but Jesus chose just one to heal.

Perspective

We want to believe that we can accomplish more by turning up our stress level:

  • working faster
  • working longer hours
  • working with fewer breaks or days off

Repeated studies have show that to be wrong! Instead, higher stress leads to:

  • difficuly concentrating
  • greater numbers of errors
  • short temper and other difficulties working with others
  • dramatiocally ;less innovation and creativity
  • more time missed due to illness

This kind of approach quickly demonstrates the “law of diminishing returns” where each additional increment of productivity takes an order of magnitude greater effort until the amount of effort required greatly exceeds that which is possible. Instead, we must keep in perspective what we can accomplish, what we should expect of ourselves, and what we can look to others to accomplish instead of piling all the work on ourselves.

Physical Factors

Some people handle stress better than others because of how attentive they are to their physical requirements. These requirements include factors like:

Rest and Meditation
7 to 8 hours of sheep each night
Exercise
Aerobic exercise 3 to 5 times each week
15 minutes each day to “physically relax or meditate” (sounds like prayer time to me!)
Regular movement
Getting up and moving around rather than sitting for hours on end
Healthy, Balanced Diet
Peaceful sounds, moderate temperatures, reasonable comfort
Recognize the physical stress of discomforts!

References:
Stress – Coping with Everyday Problems from the National Mental Health Association

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