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"Sunday, 17th May, 1998 - Taking the Distress out of Stress;

Scripture: PHILIPPIANS 4:1-9.

Can you imagine what happened at the Rotary Club of Sydney this week when a couple of hundred businessmen and women listened to Dr Tom Ludawici of the Adventist Hospital speaking on stress? He passed round simple stress testing indicators for people to take their own stress level readings. Those at my table were dismayed at their high levels of stress.

Stress refers to a heightened physical or mental state produced by change. Physical stress results from injuries or illnesses. Psychological stress results from threats. In either case the body mechanisms are similar. Wesley Mission's two psychiatric hospitals treat many patients for post-traumatic stress disorder. The stress response features the hypothalamus, at the base of the brain around the pituitary gland. This secretes adrenalin and other hormones. They increase the heart rate, widen the pupils of the eyes and cause the liver to break down glycogen into glucose for a quick supply of energy. This can save your life in an emergency, but over a period of time, excess can kill you.

A 428-page NSW Health Department report indicates:: "Many people daily suffer from emotional disorders, anxieties, depression, marital conflict, job frustration, sexual worries, constant headaches, and other psychological upsets, and the number of these people makes us very worried indeed. Among men at least one in every twenty had had a mental breakdown, and one in every twelve women coming for medical service had had a nervous breakdown." 25% of men and 42% of women complained constantly of suffering from stress.

I recently re-read STRESS IN MY LIFE by Dr Hans Selye, the famous endocrinologist. In his research in Austria, the United States and Canada, he showed that attitudes to life impact our health or ill-health. He declares people with worry, resentment, frustration, fear, jealousy, depression, and revenge suffer adversely in their physical system. But a positive attitude to life and emphasis on kindness, consideration, love, patience, forgiveness enhance our physical well being. Dr Selye also said that "gratitude to God produces serenity and hope, trust and faith and peace, and all of these work together for human well being."

The NSW Health Department report states, "There appears to be a close immediate link between stress in a person's life and our great rise in heart disease, most mental illnesses, obesity, drug addiction and alcoholism. Learning to cope with stress is a fundamental health lesson today." When we live in a great city jostling many others, we have to live with noise, distraction, competing interests and insecurity. People fear travelling on public transport. 70,000 people phoned our counsellors at Wesley Mission with a stress crisis.

Youth live under study pressure, peer pressure, drug pressure, parental expectation pressure. Mothers suffer stress living up to the liberated "superwoman" images presented in so many TV ads and women's magazines. Young mothers with children feel trapped in a suburban wilderness. Working women suffer double the workplace stress of men, a Commonwealth Government national survey revealed. The women's stress rate is three times that of men.

Among the causes of work stress 24% were due to interpersonal conflict, 24% to pressure from work deadlines, 22% to anxiety caused by organisational change, 7% to performance counselling and 6% to forced relocation and restructuring. A new phrase: "the jaded career girl syndrome", by Eve MacSweeney in Vogue magazine, describes women who wonder if their efforts were worth it. Middle aged people are stressed with worries over work, finance, competition and fear. Aged people are stressed by ill health, frailty, income, loneliness, inability to cope, accommodation and on-going care.

Your work may be killing you! Research categorises stress-related jobs and their affect on life expectancy. Strain, fatigue, tiredness, tension, worry - all can kill! Nurses in a Royal North Shore Hospital survey suffer from work-related stress. Hence nurses smoke cigarettes twice as much as other citizens even though they know better. Public servants stress claims now represent 20% of the cost of all workers' compensation claims, up from 6% three years ago to $50 million a year.

Teachers suffer from stress. A NSW Teachers Federation official says: "Stress is caused by work relationships, school management, feelings of being under pressure from the community, fear of harassment and violence from kids and parents. This stress is indicative of a system breakdown." Police suffer stress. The Police Association says: "Six years ago most medical discharges were due to muscular/skeletal injuries but there's been a big shift to stress-related injuries so now almost half discharges are due to stress. One in 16 officers have post-traumatic stress after just one year."

If work can kill you, consider unemployment. Poverty may kill you. Unemployment resulting in poverty is having a disastrous impact upon the lives of many in our country. Just to survive they have cut entertainment, cut purchases of anything except food, cut school excursions and school shoes, let the car be repossessed, and on the kitchen bench are many unpaid bills. These families are dying from poverty, the death of a thousand cuts! Poverty creates stress in so many families.

Affluence and competition may also kill you. Dr Meyer Friedman and Dr Ray Rosenman, studied heart attack victims whom they classified as CLASS A and CLASS B. 90% of all people who had heart attacks under 60 years of age belonged to Class A. "They are habitually impatient, constantly under stress from urgent pressing feelings they haven't enough time. Their body movements are brisk. They speak in explosive hurried speech, and they are always tense and never relaxed, prone to vent hostility upon family or friends in verbal abuse."

How can poor people take the distress out of stress? How can working people learn to live and cope with stress? How can affluent people learn to avoid hypertension? Stress is largely a contemporary illness caused by our life-style. Earlier centuries saw hard physical work, walking, a slower pace of living, earlier hours of going to bed and getting up, and lack of stressors like television, nicotine and caffeine as healthy. There is no mention of stress in the medical sense in all the writings of John Wesley. There is no mention of stress in the Bible although there are some who suffered from it. But there is a good recipe for coping with it!

The Apostle Paul gave brilliant guidelines that help people even today in PHILIPPIANS 4.

1. STAND FIRM IN THE LORD.

Phil 4:1 "Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!" People without firm principles are stressed with constantly thinking what they should do. Christians know what they should do. They stand firm in the Lord.

2. AGREE IN THE LORD.

4:2 "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Two women are instructed to bring their attitudes into harmony. Disagreement stresses. Paul urges them to form their attitudes "in the Lord," for then dispute would vanish. Paul urges Syzygus to live up to his name "yokefellow" by bringing these women together. When we learn to agree with each other in the Lord, then stress is neutralised.

3. ALWAYS REJOICE.

4:4 "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Paul was constantly under attack, facing personality clashes among believers, persecution from the world and threat of imminent death. Yet he had learnt the secret of rejoicing in all circumstances. Watch the tension on the faces of other car drivers at traffic lights. Instead: sing praises! I guarantee stress will flee. The Christian is to maintain a spirit of joy in the Lord. When you do, you feel relaxed and you know inner peace and joy in every circumstance.

4. BE BIG HEARTED.

4:5 "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." Gentleness means being big-hearted. It means yielding personal rights to show consideration to others. We stick to the truth, but big-heartedness disarms adversaries.

5. REFUSE TO WORRY.

4:6 "Do not be anxious about anything," That's an order! Do not allow anxiety, fretfulness, or undue concern to fill your mind. If you toss and turn at night with stress, get up and do something! Physical activity and mental stimulation eat stress. Then you will sleep.

6. PRAY CONSTANTLY.

V6 "but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." There is one way of eliminating worry: pray instead! If you concentrate on praying, your anxieties and worries disappear. Here, Prayer denotes our attitude of mind as worshipful. Petition denotes requests for ourselves and others. Thanksgiving denotes trust in God's goodness to us. Requests refers to the things we ask God. To pray constantly is one secret in overcoming stress.

7. ACCEPT GOD'S PEACE.

V7 "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." When we turn from anxiety to prayer and thanksgiving, God will give us His own peace. We have peace with God through justification by faith in Christ Rom 5:8. The serenity of mind "which passeth all understanding" comes as a result of being right with God. Then our mind rests serenely. Stress cannot fill our hearts when God stands guard. For the peace of God surpasses human comprehension and allows us to rest knowing His resources are adequate.

8. PRACTISE POSITIVE THINKING.

V8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -think about such things." Keep thinking and doing what is positive. True means valid. Noble is a quality that makes people worthy of respect. Right refers to what is just. Pure emphasises moral purity. It means no sexuality outside of marriage. It means being chaste if you are single, hetero-sexual or homosexual. Lovely relates to what is pleasing. Admirable denotes what is praiseworthy. Centre your minds on such thoughts as these, and you shall live as Christians ought.

9. LIVE AFFIRMATIVELY.

v9 "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -put it into practice." What they had learned from Paul they were to keep on practicing. So many Christians know what to do, but do not discipline themselves into then putting into practice what they have learned.

10. LET GOD BLESS YOUR STRESS!

V9 "And the God of peace will be with you." Here is the promise that God, would be with you. Let God bless your stress! Let God take the distress from your stress so you can live in His peace. What a recipe for modern people! If more people just read and practised these simple Bible rules, there would be fewer people with hypertension, heart attacks, work absenteeism, tense families, drug addicts and far few patients in our hospitals. The stress levels of a nation could decline dramatically if people read and practised the teachings of Jesus and His apostle, Paul.

REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:

Schafer, W., Stress Management for Wellness, 2d ed. (1992).
1996 Grollier Electronic Encyclopaedia.
STRESS IN MY LIFE" Dr H Selye McClelland & Stewart).
HOW TO REDUCE STRESS NSW Dept of Health.
THE EXPOSITORS BIBLE COMMENTARY F Gaebelein Zondervan 1979

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