Productivity

Stretched vs. Stressed: What’s the Difference and why does it Matter for Leaders?

by Sarah Holtan, Ph.D.

“How do you do it all?” I’m asked regularly by friends and colleagues. My answer: “I don’t.” I watch their eyes get round and their eyebrows shoot up. They know I’m the solo parent of two young children, a full-time employee, and hold numerous other roles. I explain that I used to try to do it all… yes, I tried to be a SuperMom. I even took multivitamins by that name! But the SuperMom Phenom was a dangerous trap for me. The pressure to maintain control over all the moving parts in my life– or the illusion of control – was utterly exhausting and stressful.

Leaders are prone to high levels of stress. The Bible refers to stress as anxiety, worry, and troubles (Matt. 6:25; Ps. 142:2-3). God wants us to come to Him in prayer with our troubles (2 Sam. 22:7). Prayer is the antidote to anxiety: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). He wants us to learn to love and trust in Him fully to provide for us (Prov. 3:5-6). Furthermore, our general well-being is at stake. We serve no one well when we are highly stressed because we make poor decisions and/or withdraw from situations and people.

I was in a position of leadership at work and in a low place in my personal life when I realized I couldn’t function well anymore. I was no longer challenged in a positive way; I was just overwhelmed. My adrenaline was pumping almost constantly. After prayerful consideration, and to the shock of many, I requested a demotion at work. It was the hardest and best decision of my professional life.

How did I know I was stressed out and not just stretched? At first, I didn’t. Like most of us, I just tried to “power through” the daily grind of managing work, family, and Everything Else. I told myself it would get better after I adjusted. It didn’t. Looking back, I can see I exhibited some of the signs that are commonly associated with stress:

  • Negative emotions being close to the surface, such as irritability and frustration
  • Resentful attitude
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed, especially at night and upon waking
  • Sleep disturbances (too much or too little)
  • Over-reliance on over-the-counter medications for headaches and other ailments
  • Lack of self-care, such as exercise
  • Increased escapism activities, such as television

But I’m an overachiever, classic Type A, so I had trouble discerning the difference between the challenges that stretch us – those that are positive, healthy, productive, and growth opportunities – and challenges that stress us, which are those that might debilitate us.

Here are some signs of being stretched:

  • Feeling energized by the new role, task, event, life change, etc., even if scared about it
  • Brain automatically begins visualizing possibilities
  • Able to manage negative emotions reasonably
  • Sense of accomplishment surrounding it

If you are exhibiting signs of stress, what can you do about it? I’d recommend the following:

A.     Pray. Read Scripture, such as Psalm 118:5-9, John 14:27, and Matthew 6:25-34. Trust in the Lord to provide the necessities of life.

B.     Identify the top 1-3 stressor(s) in your life (macro level) or regarding one particular aspect of life (micro level).

1.     Decide if the stressor(s) can be fixed with a technical solution.  For example, I don’t mind cleaning the house. But I do mind the time that it takes to vacuum snack crumbs out of the carpets, scrape silly putty off the fireplace hearth, and pick up two dozen toy trucks and half-finished art projects. My technical solution was to add a household budget line item for a housekeeper.

2.     If a technical solution is not readily apparent, you might need to consider if you have a deeper, philosophical issue.  Maybe it is fear of changing or delegating work to someone else, and thus, losing control.

C.     Ask yourself what could or will happen if you do nothing? What are the short- and long-term consequences? What will you regret?

D.     Consider what you could do for others to help ease their troubles and anxieties (Luke 11:46). Are you creating obstacles for your co-workers or family members? Could you help them overcome their obstacles? Could you serve them in a meaningful way, and thus, experience their tranquility and joy by proxy?

I’m proud to say I’ve shifted away from the SuperMom trappings. But since I’m Type A, I’ll rebrand myself as a TopMom.

God is the Writer – You Are His Book

Overcoming Writer’s Anxiety through a study of 2 Corinthians 3:3
by Elise Arndt

Verba volant, scripta manent is a Latin proverb. Literally translated, it means “spoken words fly away, written words remain”.  If that is true, what a motivation for us to write the amazing things God has done.  We are his “letters” written with the pen of His redeeming love in Christ.  We are His “letter”—pages and chapters filled with God’s love and grace.

But, how does one begin writing those marvelous acts of God? What happens when the words in your mind aren’t easily translated onto paper or a computer screen?

My desire to write began in the late 1960’s. At that time our family was living in Papua New Guinea.  As I wrote letters home, words flowed in a free and uninhibited, unprofessional fashion that expressed my heart. They were simple stories of God’s amazing love and provision.  I didn’t think of them as being profound, but friends and family members responded and wanted to hear more. The more they responded the more I wrote.  The more I wrote the more my confidence grew.

When we returned to the United States, I began sharing my stories with anyone who would listen. Eventually groups of women asked me to speak at Bible studies and conferences. Out of necessity outlines developed which later became the framework for future publications.

When asked to write my first publication, I experienced what most writers feel -inadequacy and the fear of rejection. I will never forget my husband’s words to me when the pain of not writing exceeded the pain of writing.

“Take the risk!”

“Don’t live in regret.”

“Your purpose in writing is to leave a legacy. That alone will be your success!”

 

To start writing was difficult.  Nothing I wrote seemed to fit together.  Then I found my style. Although unconventional, it worked.

Since I am not a linear thinker, concepts, and creative ideas would be placed on a page randomly. There was no concern for order, no outline, no sentence structure, punctuation or capitalization – just pure creativity.  Miraculously, a common thread began to emerge with an outline following.

Finally the first draft was written.  It was perfect!  Until I read it the next day.  Not as good as I thought.  Then began the agonizing and seemingly unending process of re-writing

I found that words effectively communicated take time to flow.  This process cannot be hurried. Re-writing causes paragraphs to transition better. Fewer words are used to express adequately the sacred thoughts of the soul.  Those re-writes clarified more effectively what my heart wanted to convey.

As you begin the adventure of writing (be it e-books, blogs, publications,  an actual book through a publishing house, or traditional journaling) keep in mind that the time you spend is never wasted. Although it is a world of emotional highs and lows where discouragement and confidence walk side by side, keep in mind your focus. You are God’s “Living Letter” – a testimony of his love and faithfulness to be shared with future generations.

Be Energized by GEMS

God + Exercise + Meals + Sleep = An energized YOU! Read on for tips from Karen Sue Hinz Murdy on how to apply this recipe to equip yourself with energy for leadership:

As I pondered the words of advice I wanted to write for my eldest son heading off to college twelve hours away from home, I considered the stresses he would encounter at college. What words would truly help him?

As I pondered the words to share with my exhausted friend who was mothering a newborn, I considered the words that would encourage her through this exhilarating, yet exhausting, time.

As I pondered the words to express to women leaders who want to build energy in order to serve in their churches and in their homes, I considered the priorities for their valuable time.

The words I’ve found for all three of these scenarios, and for many others, are real gems!

Everyday include these G.E.M.S.:

G: God time.  Make God-time first and foremost.  Read your Bible.  Be encouraged. Pray. Find strength in God’s promises:

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

and

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

At a very beneficial WLI conference in Milwaukee a few years ago, I heard Ida Mall speak. Although I can’t quote her exact words, the essence of them was, “If it doesn’t have to do with eternity, let it go.”  By having God-time daily, the perspective of eternity helps guide your priorities.

E: Exercise Make exercise a part of every day.  Ideally exercise 30 minutes a day, but something is always better than nothing.  At least, go for a 10 minute walk, preferably outside in the sunshine. Exercise has a plethora of benefits and will help you physically, mentally, cognitively, and spiritually! You can even combine your exercise time with your God-time by listening to your Bible on a phone app and praying while you walk.

M: Meals…good nutrition.  The food you feed your body fuels your body.  To work well, feed your body well.  Make sure to include protein and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.

S: Sleep God designed our bodies to have rest time.  Without it, most people cannot function well. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults.

God so amazingly created our awesome minds and bodies. When these GEMS are included each day, you will have more physical energy to serve in your home and at church. When we plug into the Power Source, we received grace from our loving God and find strength for our days.


Karen Sue Hinz Murdy, Speaker and Certified Exercise Physiologist, loves to encourage and equip people both in their spiritual and physical walk with the Lord. For more information, please check out karensuemurdy.blogspot.com or call 608-346-9866.