Dave Cummings is a professor and a very authentic guy. I wonder how many others are living with “chronic stress” and not even aware of it. I wonder how many of you can identify with his thoughts and experiences with stress, anxiety, and depression. This is a very good blog.
Facing Up to Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Generally speaking, I’m a pretty healthy guy. I watch my cholesterol and try to stay active at the beach and in the mountains. But a few years back, without warning, my health suddenly tanked. I couldn’t keep any food down and I grew too weak to get out of bed some days. Over the next two months I visited every medical specialist in the book, but each one said the same thing: healthy, healthy, healthy. During that same time, my health just continued to deteriorate. How could I possibly be as healthy as they say I am? Something was clearly wrong with me but no one seemed to know what. I was growing desperate.
Then one doctor said something that has since changed my life. “You know Dave,” he remarked after telling me I was in fine form, “I’ve seen these same symptoms in people suffering from chronic stress.” I didn’t buy it. Sure, my life was busy. But whose wasn’t? No, I was handling it all just fine.
Two weeks later I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression due to chronic stress.
A busy career, a full plate at church, a wife and three young children at home, a tight budget. I might have thought that I was handling it all just fine, but in reality, I was living my life right at the breaking point. And I broke.
The apostle Paul challenges us to consider ourselves with “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). This sort of honest personal reflection doesn’t come naturally to me. My tendency is to plow ahead without looking back much, without considering what I’ve done, what’s been done to me, and how well I’m living out my calling.
If I had been paying more attention I might have noticed that my wife was feeling left behind and disconnected from me. I may have been able to see that my kids were growing up fast and I was missing much of it. I would have known that my church wasn’t getting the best I had to offer, but, like everyone else, was getting just what little of my gifts and strengths that I could spare. I was trying to do a million different things, but in the end I was doing all of them rather poorly. And in the process, I was making myself literally sick.
My chronic stress was making me anxious. I even began having panic attacks, seemingly for no reason at all. That and my underlying depression made it nearly impossible for me to be present in the moment with anyone. I might have been physically present, but my mind was always elsewhere, rehashing the past or catastrophizing the future.
As I have learned to take better care of myself, I’ve experienced the rewards of a healthy life in all of my relationships. I’ve found greater contentment with my career. My ministry efforts are flourishing like never before. And personally, I’ve re-discovered peace, love, and joy, fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) long absent from my life.
I’ve discovered that what my job, my church, and my family really need isn’t every last drop of blood and sweat I can muster. They don’t need me to squeeze myself dry like a sponge. What the world really needs from me is a physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy Dave. They need me to be the best version of me I can be, and that means I have to take better care of myself. I need to set and keep clear boundaries. I need to learn to say no, even to perfectly good things, perfectly reasonable requests of my time and resources. I need to learn coping and resilience strategies to better handle the inevitable stressful times.
If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that self-care isn’t selfish. Self-care is not only the best way to offer the best of myself to a world that needs me, but it’s also part of God’s plan for my life as His beloved child. If you’re at the end of your rope, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your how your time and energy resources are being spent, and ask God for the wisdom and courage to make healthy changes.