The other day I tried to sit down and just be still for a moment. Instantly, my legs got uncomfortable. They wanted to keep moving. The thought of slowing down was terrifying so instead my body urged me to keep finding new things to distract myself. I got a lot of steps in that week before I was finally able to slow down and figure out what was really going on. I was so caught up in stress that I couldn’t stop doing things for even a moment.
As I look back over most of my life, this has been a really common pattern. Whenever something challenging is happening, I find ways to keep myself busy. If I focus on what I can control, complete projects from beginning to end, then maybe I can hide from the other things in my life that are the source of the stress I’m feeling.
The Connection Between Stress & Busyness
In college, I would cope with stress by staying busy- Binge watching Netflix, avoiding sleep, spending time with friends, cleaning my apartment until every single speck of dust was gone, taking on more leadership positions, and even studying so I could avoid thinking about the other things I had going on. Some of my strongest semesters grade-wise were the ones when I was stressed about things in my personal life and needed a distraction.
Maybe you can’t relate to that, but you crave a specific outcome that busyness seems to offer. Maybe in order to seem impressive and successful you think you need to always appear like you are doing something. You take on more responsibility because that’s what success is “supposed” to look like, right? Or, you think that being a fully functioning human means you have to at least appear busy. Then you take on more things until you’re so busy and you end up just being perpetually stressed.
I’ve realized over the years that staying busy isn’t always bad, but I need to learn to recognize when I’m using busyness to avoid something. If I can’t do that, then I can’t let God into the stressful parts of my life. I will just avoid dealing with things until I crash altogether. So what are we to do with our stress & busyness? Here are 3 Tips.
1. Get Some Sleep
If I gave you a list of practices that would help combat busyness and stress, the number one thing on the list would be to sleep. If I am always busy, I am ignoring God’s invitations to rest, of which there are many. I love the book, The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. In the first chapter he writes,
“The number one enemy of Christian spiritual formation today is exhaustion. We are living beyond our means, both financially and physically. As a result, one of the primary activities (or anti-activities) of human life is being neglected: sleep. According to numerous studies, the average person needs approximately eight hours of sleep in order to maintain health. This tells me that God has designed humans to spend nearly one-third of our lives sleeping.”
Take some time to release yourself from other commitments and prioritize resting. You’ll probably find that you can get even more done with less stress if you are well rested than if you aren’t.
2. Remember that God is in Control
Practices that allow you to remember that God is in control is an important way to help you deal with stress & busyness. If you notice that you are frequently overwhelmed by thoughts of what else you need to do in a day, then start a practice of writing these thoughts down as they come to mind. Let that be a reminder of God’s control over them, while simultaneously freeing up your mind because you no longer have to make sure to remember it. Another potential practice for this could be to pray through a passage of scripture like Psalm 23- a passage that clearly states God’s care of and control over our lives.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
3. Make a weekly commitment to rest
Ready for a bigger challenge? Try regularly practicing a sabbath, a full day each week to rest. Pick a day each week to not focus on school or work. Dedicate the day to spending time with God and doing things you enjoy that provide rest. If you still need permission to remove yourself from some busyness in your life, take a look at this passage:
Psalm 127:2 (The Message version)
“It's useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don't you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?”
Before you stop reading and go back to your day, take a minute and identify one thing you could implement that would help you combat busyness and stress. It could be something from this list or something else that came to mind as you read it!