Stress and anxiety are skyrocketing in our country and our world. From the fear of sickness to job-related stress to political unrest and more, we are carrying heavy burdens. And, it’s not good. For the sake of our mental health, physical health, and community health, it’s imperative to reduce stress now.
We’ve got a plan. Here’s what stress does to your body and a 10-minute plan you can do every day, or several times per day, to stop stress in its tracks and take back control of your mind.
High levels of mental stress are not good for your brain, your health, your relationships, or your immune system. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can affect all our body’s systems.
Cortisol is a hormone that’s released by the adrenal glands when the body faces stress. In modern times, this stress is often more mental than physical and usually has no outlet. For many, it’s chronic. It builds. And it does damage.
High blood cortisol levels are correlated with weight gain and impaired loss, increased blood pressure, negative impacts on mood, sleep and energy, an increased incidence of diabetes and heart disease, and even lower brain volume and memory issues (1).
If you don’t think a 10-minute-plan can really reduce stress and cortisol right now, who can blame you? Anxiety can stem from real-life problems, and these can rarely be solved in 10 minutes.
But, here’s the thing: stress is different than problems. Stress is worrying about them and allowing your brain to “play” your worries on repeat. It doesn’t actually solve anything. Everyone has problems. But it doesn’t mean you have to live with high levels of stress. In fact, much of our stress is actually made up.
It’s been said 85% of our worries are about things that never happen. Think about that. What if you reduced your worries by 85% just by not allowing lies and “made-up situations” to consume your thoughts. Stress lives in our brains and manifests to harm our health physically. If some of your stress is “made up” or “made bigger” in your brain, you can absolutely outsmart it and take control in 10 minutes.
This is not to downplay the challenges in your life that are very real. Sickness and disease are real. Death is real. Every human must grapple with problems in their lives. Some of them are heart-wrenching.
The trick is to eliminate the ones that aren’t real or that we cannot control. Sometimes, we lose our perspective and allow ourselves to engage in more anxiety than our problems demand. Today, you can determine which problems actually require your time and energy, and which you can “let go.”
Ready for less stress in 10 minutes? Start the clock.
All you need is 10 minutes, a pencil, paper, and access to Scripture (if not memorized).
First, let’s get our minds straight. Get into the “moment” and out of our emotions and worries. If you feel frantic, you can’t really think through your stress. It feeds on frantic.
Take the first minute (set a timer) to breathe and slow down. Here’s how:
While pressing your tongue strongly against the roof of your mouth, breathe in slowly. Then, allow your tongue to completely relax and lower, even allowing your mouth to hand open if you want, and slowly breathe out. Do this for the entire 1st minute.
Next, take a full minute and write down all your worries. This is a free-for-all. Scribble all your worries on your paper.
Look back at your list of worries. Which hasn’t even happened yet? Which have you made up? Cross these out.
Next, which worries are real problems in your life? We will have struggles, this is guaranteed. Circle these.
Lastly, determine with are within your control (those you can take action on) and which are entirely out of your control. Remember, you can’t always control outcomes. You can’t control other people’s feelings, actions, or lives. Look at the circled “problems” you can’t control. Draw an “x” over them. But, don’t erase them, they are still worth your prayers. God certainly can control them. But, if you can’t take action, they must come off your list of stress.
Now, how many remain circled (without an “)? These are the things you can control or take action. You’ll consider these more in the next few minutes.
Look at your list, and pray for each thing you wrote down one by one. Not only does prayer reduce stress and increase optimism, but it can also actually improve physical health (2).
If it’s an issue that’s really someone else’s issue, pray for that person. If it’s made-up, pray that God will take that thought captive and give you peace.
If it’s an actual problem in your life, pray for clarity and strength to move forward as needed. Or, for the wisdom to wait.
Look at the circled items on your list (those without an x). These are the ONLY ones to focus on now. Take a few minutes to meet these head-on.
If you have many listed, consider only working on your top 3 at a time. You’ve prayed for the others and can come back to those at another time.
Jot down actions you can take with these items. If you don’t know, pray for them individually again and ask God to align your actions and thoughts with His will. Sometimes, this means no action.
On the same sheet of paper, write down and memorize one verse from Scripture, from your favorite praise song, or a mantra to repeat to yourself when you are stressed. You can rewire your brain to stop stressful thoughts in their tracks, and play life-giving truths in their place. There’s a reason we are encouraged to memorize scripture and write it on our hearts. When it’s in your thoughts, there’s not as much room for stress. For example:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 5: 35-38
Have you ever taken an entire minute and praised God? Praise Him for His attributes, completely separate from your circumstances. When Jesus said the Lord’s prayer, He started with praising the Father.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” -Luke 11:2
Pure praise to God for being God.
Meditate on His character. When this is your perspective, it’s easier to realize that your burdens are in good hands.
Lastly, give thanks for your blessings. Go back to your paper. Prayerfully write down your gratitudes. Write down big and small blessings. Fill your heart with gratitude and your stress will diminish. If you’d like, extend the writing of gratitude throughout the day. When you see something or think of something for which you’re thankful, write it down and thank God!
Did that take more than 10 minutes? The first few times, this routine may take a bit longer. You’re learning a new habit. It will become easier and smoother as you continue to practice it.
If you’ve got extra time after reducing your stress, even just 5 minutes, think of and act on one small kindness you can do for someone else right now. A quick text or note telling someone you appreciate them or are praying for them. A $5 small gift for someone. A card. A hug. A compliment.
How much less stress would we all feel if every day all of us took the extra 5 minutes for one act of kindness? Can you imagine? It’s true: We can change our world.
As a people with real hope in a real God, it’s time to stop this outbreak of skyrocketing stress. It’s time to meet despair head-on, and fight. Take 10 minutes. Reduce stress now.
Then, go beyond your own stress and spread love and hope to others. We can do this, no matter our circumstances this day.