These last several weeks it seems that the word and concept of stress keeps capturing my attention. First it was a sign in the bookstore that proclaimed: “Out of my mind. Be back in one hour.” Continuing to browse in the bookstore I came across another sticker sign that said: “Quit taking this life on earth so seriously. Nobody gets out of it alive anyway.” Then several days later I got a text message saying a friend had just been hospitalized with a heart attack. This week one of my granddaughters is undergoing derma treatments for facial breakouts that, according to her doctor, are due to stress.

We are told that it is not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it. If our blood begins to race, our stomach starts to grumble and ache, our nerves seem stretched to the absolute limit, our chest joins in the excitement with sudden sharp pains, and sleep eludes us every night, then “Hello” to stress! Other common symptoms are frequent headaches, general uneasiness, constipation or diarrhea, ‘high’ blood and blood pressure fluctuations, body aches, and lightheadedness.

Yes, life today can be stressful if we allow it to be. We are daily bombarded with glaring headlines, angry faces on the TV news, air pollution, urgent deadlines at the office, reports that should have been done yesterday, etc., etc., etc. Our cell phones disturb us with their incessant ringtones, emails shout “reply now or else”. Noise is all around us, too, adding its chaotic voice to the mix.

How can we deal with all this noise and these distractions that are the negative effects of life today? How do we keep our sanity intact and mind focused on the positive?

One Christian author believes that we need to “listen to life”. Not to the obvious noises. Not to the circus of events swirling around us. Not to the TV and radio soaps. Listening to life is the art of hearing the whisper of God instructing us in His ways, being able to listen between the noises to that still, small silence that speaks in peace to our heart. This is the anchor of our everyday epiphanies, awareness of God’s voice and work in us and around us.

In a difficult situation Instead of reacting in anger or with sharp, hurting words, I try to remember to pause just a moment, take a deep breath, have a quick think, and then respond as calmly as possible in such a way to defuse the stressful situation. Later I may review the happening, but I don’t allow myself to dwell negatively on it. I believe that by fretting over a recent exchange of words, getting angry over what I said or did, or the other person said or did, to the point of losing sleep, elevating my blood pressure, etc., only hurts me, thereby letting the other person win. One thing that works for me in taking the pressure off is by writing down my thoughts, venting my feelings on paper. This really does relieve my self-created tensions and allows me to relax.

Other ways to deal with stress include making a conscious choice to be happy each day, to choose to look at things positively instead of negatively. I am learning to say “no” to adding yet another appointment or meeting in my already busy schedule. I take instant meditation breaks by visualizing a peaceful scene in nature (like a lazy river flowing by, or the hush as the dawning sun sends me its first morning rays) for a few moments.

I get in touch with my friends in the BCBP community whose care and encouragement often support me when I am down. I exercise, take a walk, eat healthy meals, get enough sleep. Above all, I listen to life, to the pauses between the incessant noises, so I can hear God whisper He loves me in the sweet songs of the birds, in the laughter of children, in the warm hug of a loved one, even in someone else’s angry criticism.

Life isn’t about being stressed out. God is always with us, we just need to take time to listen to Him, to listen to life. Then, say “good-bye” to stress, and “Hello” to enjoying life!

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