Wednesday, February 8, 2012


British man on Tuesday at 11:45
According to a survey done in Great Britain, Tuesday at 11:45 is the most stressful time of the week.  Particularly if you coast through Monday and allow your work to build up.  I had a patient today who's an attorney.  She said stress is a major factor in her life all the time - even though she's reduced her workload from 80 hours a week to 65.  

How's your stress level?  

It's something we face, at some level and in some way, every day.  It affects us in multiple ways.  
Some are obvious, some not so obvious and some are probably not even known yet.  

You're probably familiar with what goes on mentally when you are stressed.  Worry, anxiety, feelings of impending doom, anger, frustration, fear, and so on.  Do you know what goes on physically?  

A hormone called Cortisol has been identified as being overproduced in people who describe being under elevated stress.  Cortisol is useful and necessary in the right amounts as it regulates blood pressure, heart functions, the body's use of fats and proteins, inflammatory response and 'fight or flight' response, improved memory, reduced pain, and increased energy among other things (  But when it is chronically high, you can have suppression of thyroid function, cognitive impairment, increased blood pressure, decreased bone density, and blood sugar imbalances. High levels of cortisol can also lower your immunity and inflammatory responses, as well as slow down the wound healing process.  Chronic stress leads to a high concentration of cortisol in your body.  Chronic high concentrations of cortisol is toxic to brain cells and can cause short-term memory loss. A lifetime of high cortisol levels may be a primary contributor to Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia and is also a primary cause of osteoporosis.

Didn't think it was all THAT bad, did ya?

When I have patients at work tell me they are stressed, I usually give them a copy of an article from the newspaper by Dr. Bryant Stamford, the medical columnist.  My disclaimer is that it may not directly apply to their circumstances, but it's worth checking out.  In the article, Stamford describes some of the destructive properties of stress and he talks about the aspect of stress that comes from fear of the future.  He states that the past and future don't exist, except in our minds.  Yet we spend most of our time there, worrying about things that have already happened or that probably won't occur.  He says it's the ultimate stress-promoting Catch-22 - conjuring up fears and threats we can't do anything about.  One of my favorite pastors, D. James Kennedy, said that worry is like paying interest on a debt you will likely never owe.  

Most of what we worry about doesn't even come to pass, yet we suffer anyway.  This is important to understand for our present peace.  

I can look at some circumstances in my life right now, extrapolate them out based on current trends and decide that all is in fact lost and will turn out horribly.  Yet my own life is proof of the opposite.  Stamford says we need to come fully to the present and practice the critical life skill of living 'here and now'.

Back to cortisol.   
(Not a self-portrait)
One effect of the stress response is to break down adipose (fat) cells to move triglycerides (fat molecules) into the bloodstream for more energy. Your body would use the energy from triglycerides in the "fight or flight" physical responses to stress. But do you have increased physical activity in response to most of the stresses you experience in the modern world? Most people don't. Instead of burning the triglycerides, cortisol causes these unused fats to be re-deposited in the adipose tissues surrounding the belly.  This inspires me to coin a new phrase 'fear belly'.

This is one of the many reasons exercise is good for us.  It burns off the elevated 'free floating' fat molecules produced by stress AND increases the release of the happy hormones - endorphins - making you feel better which in turn also lowers stress.  Of course, a stronger heart, lower blood pressure, and lower weight are associated as well.  I implied at the beginning that all the negatives associated with stress haven't been fully understood yet, and I also believe that all the benefits of exercise cannot be overstated.  I've read that lifting weights strengthens your bones.  I didn't understand how that could occur, but here's a connection.  Exercise = lower cortisol = stronger bones.  And this is just one example.

In some of my favorite passages from the bible, Jesus uses the phrase 'do not worry' 3 times in Matthew 6:25-34 and it's repeated in Luke 12:11-29.  Read over those passages again.  God doesn't want us to stress.  It's not good for us and it's not necessary.  Yes, we'll have trials and difficult times that He can use to grow us, but if we rest in the assurance that He's going through them with us, that He works out everything for our best, and that we can fully trust Him because He cares for us and has our eternal best interests as an endpoint we can quit diminishing our daily level of joy and quit slowly killing ourselves.

Don't run after the things the world runs after - money, fame, power and pleasure.  That's a cortisol factory waiting to happen.  Seek after the things of God.  He knows what you need and what's best for you.  Jesus asks an interesting question in the above passages, 'if you can't even do the small task of adding a single hour to your life, why do you worry about all the rest?'.

Don't worry.

Why Trifecta?  Because this is a win on all 3 of the main topics this blog is supposed to be about.


  1. Wow, I really liked this post!

    Just the stuff about not worrying about the future because it doesn't exist, and letting the past go because you can't change it.

    The stress releasing fat/energy into your bloodstream, and then not doing anything with that energy being one factor in getting fat...very interesting!

    Don't worry about things...when we worry it's a sign that we don't trust God enough with our lives. But if we really get down to brass tacks, even if we died today some how, God will still be there to handle everything we leave behind, and on top of that we're on our way to a better don't worry! :)


    1. Thanks! Got anything on openness theory or something new you're learning/thinking about? Post it!

  2. will Howlett2/13/2012

    "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."
    Isaiah 26:3

    This verse has been my mantra for the past 3 years. I would say 95% of my stress comes from $$-or the lack of it....

    The other stress comes from anxiety in relationships. Being on school campuses and connecting with students can sometimes be intimidating to me. I'm old enough now to be their parents. It doesn't matter when I show up on a school campus, it doesn't matter what i wear, wether I have short or long hair, shaven or not, the kids i know always tell me I'm creepy. I recently walked with a kid to my car parked at the school and a kid yelled "Have fun, Jeff, Don't get raped!" Ahh middle school kids! Jeff laughed....

    My point is approaching friends and strangers and engaging them in conversations, no matter what your age or occupation, can be stressful. The irony is in many cases I would experience both types of stress in the same event! The first is stress about the future...what am i going to say? Then stress about the past....Why did I say THAT! Or stress about not doing anything when i know i should have said something.

    These interactions prompted a discussion last week at Male High School. What brings your more anxiety...talking to people you know about something important or talking to people you don't know about something important. Sometimes it's difficult to talk to close friends about our relationship with Christ because we've invested a lot with them and value there friendship and somehow perceive that if they reject the Gospel, somehow they are rejecting us.

    With people we don't know, approaching them can be difficult but sometimes there's little risk.

    My point in all this is "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you". If my focus is on the Lord, HE will keep me in peace. I think some would say the opposite of stress is peace. So when i am confronted with anxious feelings in situations, i find myself repeating this verse.

    Another major topic of this discussion should be the fact that the Bible is filled with accounts of God placing those he loves directly in stressful situations....don't have time to write about this...thanks rob

    1. I think trust is the key in that verse and it's dependent on the focus of the mind. I think that when we worry and stress, it reveals something - we either 'forget' (our mind is not stayed on Him)or we don't trust(which is going to be hard to do if our mind is focused on what we see, i.e. our circumstances) that God is aware of and in control of things.

      I appreciate your honesty about your anxiety. I feel certain that those kids don't really mean what they're saying. They're trying to crack jokes on you, not realizing it may be hurtful. It seems odd to me that, as you get older, you'd feel LESS confident about your interactions with the kids. It does look needless to me to be concerned too much about what you're going to say to middle and high school kids. However, that's probably revealing my inexperience with doing anything like that. I am all too familiar with NOT approaching people with spiritual truth. I guess I have some small amount of that experience when I post these things on Facebook. I wonder who will see it. What will they think about me. But I usually post anyway. It's the real me. Take it or leave it. Besides, it's the honest truth as I see it.

      Lastly, trials. The bible is pretty clear that trials are for our good. However, I would say we hardly ever view them that way. I explored this idea a little bit in the post The Pain Benefit
      What if we could force ourselves to look at every negative experience as an opportunity? Would that be crazy? Or crazy beautiful?

  3. I would love to talk about Open Theism...I just haven't been reading anything about it lately. I've been teaching on different metaphors for sin lately, and getting ready to do two weeks on our identity in Christ, so we can move into talking about Spiritual Disciplines for maturing and growing in our relationship with God. If you want I could post some of the sin stuff (since it's the only things I have finished currently :)

    1. By all means, and explain the end of Romans 7 while you're at it ;)

    2. BTW Blue Like Jazz is coming out as a movie

  4. Haha, oh, Romans 7...great stuff. I do think I get it a little better now, though whether I'll ever get it completely, I don't know :)

    And yeah, I got to see an early rendition of the was pretty cool. Though I know some people who were like, "what just happened?" :) It's a little rough around the edges, but overall I liked it. Probably won't use it for youth group though

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