A version of this article was originally published on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale’s website.
In Luke 12:25 (NIV), as Jesus is preaching about worry and anxiety, he begs the question, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Many times, stress can be placed in the same category as worry and anxiety, yet these emotions are actually the result of the mental imbalance produced by prolonged stress. Follow along as we explore what stress is, its impact on our lives when gone unchecked, and how parents can react healthily in order to live a life of true peace in Christ.
A System Created by God
In a recent Parenting Talk we hosted on Zoom, we heard from Mariana Caro — a licensed clinical therapist and the manager of clinical services at 4KIDS. Caro opened by explaining that stress results from “situations that put pressure on us.” Whether it be work and finances for adults or school and friendships for children, there are various situations that result in our feeling pressured. Although some levels of stress or pressure are often necessary to help us grow and take action, prolonged levels of stress will cause an unhealthy imbalance and activate our stress response system.
prolonged levels of stress will cause an unhealthy imbalance and activate our stress response system.
Caro used a simple hand model to explain this stress response system. Holding up your hand in a fist, you can visualize three key areas of the brain! Your wrist area would be your brainstem, which Caro said was “responsible for regulating.” This includes our sleep cycles, balance, eating, and all other basic necessities for survival. The next area of your hand would be your palm area, which Caro compared to our brain’s limbic system. Within this area lies our emotions, memory, and discernment of danger. Lastly, your fingers, which are covering the palm area of your fist, represent the cortex. Our cortex holds our logic, reasoning, impulse control, and decision making.
Caro proceeded to describe that when our stress response system is activated, the cortex disables. To visualize this, simply raise your fingers from the fist position. When this happens, we rely on our emotions in the limbic system and the survival mindset of the brainstem instead of our logic and reasoning to guide our decision making. Consequently, this allows our stress to turn into anxiety and worry. However, once we understand this scientific system and acknowledge the Creator behind it—our good Father—we’ll be able to respond in a healthy, effective, and God-honoring way!
How Can We Recognize and Respond to an Imbalanced System?
Now that we know what happens to our brain when we allow stress to go unchecked, we can better see and address the imbalance. Here are four steps Caro provided to help us keep our stress under control:
Identify the SignsStress can impact every area of our bodies, resulting in symptoms ranging from irritability, mood swings, and restlessness to fatigue, over/under eating, and difficulty sleeping. In children, these signs often also include tantrums, isolation, defiance, or increased conflict between siblings and parents. Whether the signs are major or minor, it’s important to recognize them so beneficial and prayerful action may take place.
Locate Unhelpful Coping StrategiesOftentimes, our bodies can naturally respond to stress in very unhealthy ways causing us to spiral further into anxiety and worry. Just as Jesus instructed His audience in Luke 12 what not to do in regards to worrying, we must identify what not to do as well. Some unhelpful habits, in both parents and children, include denial, becoming busier, trying to be in control, or acting apathetically.
we must identify what not to do as well.
Take Action to Eliminate Negative Coping HabitsOnce our stress and unhelpful coping habits are identified, we can take steps toward replacing those habits with healthier ones. As parents, we must make an effort to be still in the presence of God as He fights for us (Exodus 14:14). We should also engage ourselves and our children in at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, make boundaries for screen time and work, practice deep breathing, form consistent eating habits, and sleep at least eight hours every day. By doing this, we’ll be able to handle stress more effectively and set a great example for our children, who watch us and emulate our habits.
Prioritize Connecting RelationallyAs a final piece of advice, Caro expressed that “relationship is everything!” When you intentionally create fun moments between you and your children where play, laughter, and creativity are embraced, you’ll foster a deeper relational connection that will eventually lead to honest conversations. When our children open up, we must be ready to actively listen, validate their feelings, and talk transparently about the cause of their stress. As a result, we can set realistic goals with them and build actionable plans towards relieving their stress.
When our children open up, we must be ready to actively listen
The Value of Surrender
In ending her message, Caro emphasized the value of surrender in receiving the peace of God and conquering unhealthy stress. While it may initially seem contradictory, Caro stated that “surrender is not passive.” In all the recommended tips summarized in this article, we must actively choose to lay down our circumstances, our fears, and our anxieties at the foot of the cross and, as Caro described, “consistently… redirect our heart and mind when we try to pick everything back up.” As we seek to live in a state of active surrender, we and our children can embrace the peace and hope that God offers us in Christ!
we must actively choose to lay down our circumstances, our fears, and our anxieties at the foot of the cross