Finding God in Times of Stress

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Finding God

in TIMES OF STRess Antonio Ritaccio

All booklets are published thanks to the generosity of the supporters of the Catholic Truth Society

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Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary – a sure hope in times of stress

All Scriptural quotations in this booklet are from the Revised Standard Version unless stated otherwise. Image Credits Page 4 Orla/ Page 22 Galyna Andrushko/ Page 41 Billion Photos/ Page 52 Jaromir Chalabala/

All rights reserved. First published 2019 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY. Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0040 Copyright Š 2019 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society.

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ISBN 978 1 78469 605 4

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Contents Understanding Stress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Out of Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Leaving it Until the Last Minute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Letting Go . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Practical Ways to Approach Stress . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 The Experience of Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Useful Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59

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Understanding stress


re you living with stress? Are you looking for a way to manage and even cut it out of your life? Some of us have lived and coped with stress for so long that we are not aware of how bound up we are by it. However, the tell-tale signs eventually appear. For example, we can become less tolerant of people and more short-tempered. Insignificant things take on a huge significance for us, and we become easily irritated. We can become more susceptible to colds and flu. We each only have a limited amount of energy with which to deal with stress. Like a tree bending in a storm, we all have a limit as to how much pressure we can take, and eventually we break. If we are always on edge, something must give, and we tend to become sick. God’s promises God promises us that we have a place of rest from stress in him:

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30 NIV) Stress itself is not the enemy. Our body’s reaction to any pressure causes natural stress in us, from getting out of bed in the morning, to taking a shower and then getting dressed for the day. Stress also motivates us to meet deadlines as well as run away from danger. When we perceive a sudden danger, our stress response immediately kicks into overdrive to get us ready for action. We feel “butterflies” in our stomachs, and our hearts start pounding as stress hormones race through our bodies to get us ready to jump. However, we tend to speak about stress and being stressed when it has a prolonged effect on us. We can find ourselves chronically worried, anxious, and even feeling out of control. Unchecked, stress can be harmful, leading to serious long-term effects on our physical and mental health. Stress-related symptoms are the primary cause for our days off work and visits to our doctors. The adverse effects of stress can afflict anyone from bishops to pop stars, the homeless to members of the royal family. As we are becoming busier and more worried than ever, the problem is set to increase. However, we

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are not alone in our struggles. By understanding what is behind our experience of stress in the light of God’s plan for our lives we can find new ways to live in the freedom that God intends for us. As we grapple with stress, God calls us to look beyond ourselves for a solution and to open our hearts in faith to his power so that he may deliver us from everything that afflicts us. To search for God in stress is to have faith in his Son, Jesus Christ as Lord and to recognise his authority over all that exists. He can not only create stars and planets, but he also has control over everything in our lives that causes fear and chaos. Jesus Christ calls us to recognise his desire for us, to enjoy communion with him and to give us rest. Jesus speaks to our fears: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (Jn 14:27) What stress looks like Fight or flight

The way in which our minds and our bodies perceive a threat affects our level of stress. Our ability to tolerate stress and the situations we find stressful is not the same for everyone. What causes one person stress may be the source of exhilaration for another. As soon as our

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bodies perceive a threat, our bodies begin to react. We might start to sweat, our hearts begin to race, and our breathing might become more shallow. Stress triggers a quick release of what is known as the “flight, fight or freeze” hormones cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies so that we are instantly prepared to deal with a threat. For example, if a sudden and loud noise wakes us up in the middle of the night, we can find ourselves instantly alert and awake, and jumping out of bed, while it can usually take us a long time to reach that level of consciousness even after a good night’s sleep. The symptoms of stress usually are relieved once the problem has passed. When stress begins to work against us, it becomes a problem. We can feel overwhelmed, irritable, and fearful. Our minds can become clouded, our bodies tired and so we can find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions. We can get aches and pains in our bodies including headaches and stomach problems. When we experience this level of stress for prolonged periods, it becomes chronic. Complications can then arise affecting our health with conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and even cancer. The strain on our minds can also lead to mental health issues such as worrying, anxiety and depression. Chronic stress can lead to exhaustion or “burn-out” which in some cases can be fatal.

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Stress can help us to think on our feet and to come up with a practical solution to a threat. Once the danger has passed so too does our state of stress. However, when we worry about something the source of our stress is usually from our imagination. Without knowing all the facts, we tend to imagine the worst possible outcome, and unless the issue is resolved by itself, we can be “beside ourselves” with worry. Our imaginations can work overtime, as we fantasise about all the terrible consequences of a threat. In this case, our brains tell our bodies to be prepared to react to danger – to fight, to run away or to freeze. Even though we may have a legitimate cause for concern, without clear thinking and knowing all the facts, worrying tends to make our stress levels rise. Since the source of the threat is in our imagination, we cannot find any relief from the stress, and so we tend to become paralysed with fear. For this reason, it can be more difficult to find relief from the stress caused by worry than from the stress caused by just having too much on our plate. Worrying more than usual without finding solutions can become compulsive. Speaking with a trusted friend can help enormously to help us understand our thoughts. However if we find that our worrying becomes chronic, our health can suffer and so it is important to find professional help through a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.

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Anxiety and depression

Chronic stress and worrying can lead to various anxiety disorders and depression. Anxiety and depression are two separate but related conditions which share similar symptoms with stress such as headaches, muscle problems, not being able to sleep, tiredness, worrying a lot, clouded thoughts and being irritable. However, unlike stress, rest alone will not treat them. For someone with either or both anxiety and depression, their condition tends to continue even after the stressful situation has passed. If you know someone who is suffering in this way, it is essential to stay as close as possible to them while giving them the space they need. At times, they may even come across as rude and ungrateful, or they might try to dismiss your offer of friendship, but it is vital to recognise that the illness is the cause of their negativity and so try to remain non-judgemental. For those suffering from depression, it can be a painful experience to even get up in the morning to face the day. However, it is important to remember that, even amid our pain, although it may seem that God is absent, he does not forget us. By offering our time and just listening to the one who is suffering we can become the face of God for them. Taking time to hear them is better than trying to give advice since their recovery is not merely a matter of a block in

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their willpower, but a real illness. In any case, it is essential to encourage anyone suffering from anxiety and depression to find professional help and not to try to cope alone. There are practical and successful treatments available for anxiety and depression as a regular part of healthcare today.

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Useful Resources Suggested reading Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, Forster, Mark, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000. This useful book written by Mark Forster offers an approach to time management which is sympathetic to a Christian understanding of the human person. He gives useful advice about getting to the heart of why we can find managing our attention so difficult. Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance from Evil Spirits, Lozano, Neal, Baker Publishing Group, 2010. Catholic resources The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Providing information about the Catholic Church in the England and Wales. ( The Dympna Centre A Catholic counselling service for clergy and religious. Phone: 01423 817515. Write: Parkside House, 17 East Parade, Harrogate, HG1 5LF. ( The Retrouvaille Programme For married couples facing difficult challenges in their relationship. Phone: +1 (800) 4702230. (

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Cor et Lumen Christi Community A Eucharistic centred community that seeks to build a spiritual extended family in which all the vocational states of life are at home. Phone: 0741 9375213 Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri; 11:00-13:00, 14:00-17:00 Write: Highfield House, St John’s Way, Chertsey, Surrey, KT16 8BZ. Email: cor ( Mental Health Project The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales set up a Mental Health Project. (www.catholicmental Non-Catholic resources in the UK Mind Providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They also campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Phone: 020 8519 2122 (England) 029 2039 5123 (Wales). Email: Write: Mind, 15-19 Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ (England) or Mind Cymru, 3rd Floor, Castlebridge 4, Castlebridge, 5-19 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AB (Wales). ( Samaritans Twenty four hour emotional support for anyone who needs to talk. Calls are free from all providers and do not appear on bills. Phone: 116 123 (24 hours a day). Write: Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK,

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Chris PO Box 9090, Stirling, FK8 2SA. Email: jo@ ( Stressbusting Information about stress and techniques for coping. Lists several talking treatments and alternative therapies that can be used to treat stress. ( Stress Management Society A non-profit organisation dedicated to helping individuals and companies recognise and reduce stress. They provide useful information about stress and tips on how to cope. Phone: 0203 142 8650. Email: ( Time to Change A growing social movement working to change attitudes towards mental health problems. (England: (Wales: www. Association of Christian Counsellors A professional body set up in 1992 to facilitate quality counselling, psychotherapy, pastoral care and related training. ( Alcoholics Anonymous A charity that offers fellowship to men and women in finding hope and help to recover from alcoholism. Phone: 0845 769 7555. (www.

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Emotions Anonymous Following the Twelve Step programme of recovery. The website is based in the US and provides information on where meetings are held around the world, including the UK. (www.

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