Column: A lesson on how to lessen stress

by Father Mark Goldasich 

Uh-oh. This can’t be good.

As you know, we’re still on our every other week, “relaxed” summer schedule here at The Leaven. It’s the time when the staff tries to renew itself, plan, learn new things, go on vacation. It’s the season when we gather up steam to face weeklies once again.

Now, I can’t speak for the other folks on the staff, but I’m in a heap of trouble. Not only has the summer flown by, but we had a grueling deadline a couple of weeks ago that I had no desire to repeat. And we didn’t with this issue’s deadline: We outdid ourselves — this one was worse! One person was out for a family emergency, another had strep throat, a third had to leave for a while to tend to a seriously ill pet.

Oh, did I mention that we just switched to a new computer program to produce the paper? And because the most knowledgeable person about it was out of the office, that meant I became the “go to” person for questions, problems, etc.

In short, the word of this deadline day was: stress. And I don’t wear it well.

It’s scary how stuff that I preach about always seems to come back to haunt me. A couple of weeks ago, I told my parishioners about a workshop presenter who was explaining stress. He held up a glass of water and asked, “How heavy is this?” The audience shouted out a variety of responses.

The presenter then said, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold the glass. If I hold it for a minute, no problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, call 911! In each case, the weight is the same; the longer I hold it, though, the heavier it becomes.”

“That’s the way it is with stress,” he continued. “If we carry our burden all the time, day in and day out, it becomes increasingly heavy and we won’t be able to keep going.

“As with the glass of water, the secret is to put it down for a while and rest before picking it up again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden.” (Adapted from an e-mail recently sent to me.)

Amen to that! The e-mail also included other suggestions for dealing with life’s stress and burdens:

• Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

• Drive carefully. It’s not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.

• Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won’t have a leg to stand on.

• When everything’s coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.

• Eat desserts! That’s actually “stressed” spelled backwards; doing so may reverse the course of your day!

• A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

I’d add a couple more ways to lessen stress: Ask for help with the burden . . . and pray. I sent out an e-mail to a close friend, detailing all the stresses of this deadline. A reply came back quickly: “Take deep breaths. Don’t let today pass you by by being stressed. It’s a beautiful day! You should run out and have an enjoyable lunch!” (I followed this advice and darn if it didn’t help.)

Prayer, too, is an effective de-stressor. I invited parishioners a couple of Sundays ago to remember to lay their burdens on the altar — into the hands of Jesus — every time they come to Mass. For at least that hour, set the burden down. You can pick it up again on your way out of church, but it won’t be the same burden: Jesus will have touched it and given you new insight into how to deal with it, more strength to carry it, or the courage to accept it. Happily, you don’t have to wait for a Sunday to pray. Any stressful time is a perfect time to call on the Lord’s help.

Well, folks, I’m grateful to put this issue to bed. It’s nice to lay this burden down and rest . . . at least for two more weeks until that next deadline comes around!

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