Keys to Coping in Troubled Times
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Keys to Coping in Troubled Times
At age 12 in 1961, I began delivering evening newspapers each day to about 75 homes in my community. Over the next four years I made the acquaintance of many fine neighbors, including a young family of four with two elementary-school-age girls. It was enjoyable knowing and serving that particular family since they always seemed to radiate kindness, cheerfulness and enthusiasm.
One cold winter afternoon while delivering the newspaper to their normally brightly lit home, I noticed it was unusually dark and no one was around. The next day I learned the terrible reason. The parents had been killed and their daughters seriously injured in a violent car accident. I was stunned and deeply saddened by this terrible tragedy.
In another event several months later, I returned home one evening after completing my paper route to find one of my uncles sitting on our sofa sobbing loudly and bitterly. My mother was trying to comfort her grief-stricken brother to no avail. Mom then told me that my much-loved grandfather had suffered a massive heart attack and died. I’ll never forget the stress and sorrow our entire extended family experienced due to that unexpected and heartbreaking event.
As a result of those unsettling incidents early in life, I came to see that distress could dramatically affect anyone at any time. Even the kindest, most decent people could be caught up in severe trials and adversities over which they had no control.
Perhaps you are among the many people facing various stresses, pressures and sufferings right now. If so, what are key ways you can cope? And what vital role can godly faith play in helping you deal effectively with troubling times?
Living in a stress-filled age
There’s no question we live in a stressful world that can severely affect people’s mental, emotional and physical health. An article on the website of the Canadian Red Cross titled “The Impact of Stress on Your Mental Health” states:
“Stress has a psychological impact that can manifest as irritability or aggression, a feeling of loss of control, insomnia, fatigue or exhaustion, sadness or tears, concentration or memory problems, or more . . . Stress not only affects your mental health, but also your physical health. For example, it can cause increased blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease, gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, heartburn, stomach ulcers, etc.), headaches, and back or neck pain. It can also lead to unhealthy behaviours and addictions” (Vanessa Racine, Oct. 2, 2020). The same article further points out that “continued stress can lead to other problems, such as depression, anxiety or burnout.”
Compounding the burden of daily stress that people experience has been the prolonging of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nature.com stated: “The devastation of the pandemic—millions of deaths, economic strife and unprecedented curbs on social interaction—has already had a marked effect on people’s mental health” (Alison Abbott, “Covid’s Mental-Health Toll: How Scientists Are Tracking a Surge in Depression,” Feb. 3, 2021).
In referencing mental health and other issues arising from the pandemic, a professor and director of the Traumatic Stress Clinic at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia reported: “As the pandemic enters its second year, many people will be continuing to suffer with poor mental health, or facing new mental health challenges. The effects of recurrent lockdowns, fears about the effectiveness of the vaccines, restricted movement within and beyond Australia, and the bleak economic outlook are taking their toll on psychological well-being” (Richard Bryant, “Covid’s Mental Health Fallout Will Last a Long Time. Here’s How We’re Targeting Pandemic Depression and Anxiety,” The Conversation, Feb. 25, 2021).
Mental health issues related to the pandemic have not been limited to adults. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine reported, “Our poll suggests that pandemic-era changes may have had a significant mental health impact for some teenagers” (Robert Preidt, “Pandemic Has Harmed Mental Health of Teens,” WebMD, March 15, 2021).
Adding to the everyday stress levels experienced by people in the United Kingdom, many have been encumbered by serious financial burdens due to the pandemic. A “report found that among households in which at least one person had fallen out of work, 41% of British households had suffered a severe income fall of at least 25%” (Pan Pylas, “Pandemic ‘Exposed’ UK Households’ Finances, Report Finds,” Associated Press, April 21, 2021).
Many people face distressing situations
The above commentaries are only a small sampling of reports from many nations about the injurious mental and physical effects of the pandemic. In addition to those troubles, people in numerous locations around the world have been affected by increased civil unrest involving large protest demonstrations, extreme violence and rapidly increasing crime rates.
Besides these extreme situations, people in every country around the globe are dealing with significant day-to-day marital, family, financial and employment dilemmas. Others are greatly distressed by health complications, chronic addictions, domestic abuse, depression, discrimination, persecution, grinding poverty or a combination of these and many other sufferings.
Indeed, you may be contending with one or more of these or other troubling, stressful circumstances yourself. If so, what can you do?
What you can control when things seem out of control
While it may not always be possible to completely change the circumstances you face, there are two elements you can personally control. These include your attitude and your relationship with your Eternal Creator God. Let’s examine these key points. First, your attitude.
When considering this subject I recall my father’s exhortation to my seven brothers and sisters and me many years ago that “attitude is everything.” He reminded us frequently that “life is not always fair” and that we had a choice about how we would react to its inevitable ups and downs. We could face them in a confident, positive manner and do something about them or sink into gloomy defeatism and do nothing.
My father was a good example of one who faced life as it came. He wasn’t one to complain much or become anxious when dealing with sometimes unavoidable obstacles, setbacks or mishaps. He simply accepted problems as they were and began to logically and systematically find ways to resolve them. His words and example proved beneficial to us, especially as we grew into adulthood.
However, in today’s society it seems that many people can’t handle the fact that life can be inequitable at times. Rather than dealing head-on with difficulties and doing what’s necessary to tackle them, they blame others for their troubles or attempt to hide or run away from personal responsibility.
Also, some people allow emotional upset to confuse their thinking and reasoning or they seek to escape their troubles through drugs, alcohol or other means. So, what about you? How can you best contend with adversity?
Optimism is important
Facing a problem squarely and rationally can help you find an effective solution or at least a way to moderate the issue’s severity. You can either view your situation from a negative perspective while allowing the plight to grow worse, or you can work at resolving it in a positive, constructive manner.
Your attitude toward obstacles and challenges can make a great difference. When you are confident and optimistic, you place yourself in a better position to not only manage the situation soundly, but become a more poised and confident person in the process. You have the choice as to how you view the challenges you are facing and what you will do to deal with those challenges.
Sonya Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at Stanford University, and her colleagues analyzed 225 happiness studies conducted with more than 275,000 participants. They found that “positive thinking people are physically healthier, more productive at work, more likeable in general and live longer” (Energy Times, Sept. 2008). Other studies have shown that a positive attitude leads to less stress, which in turn positively affects the human body in various ways.
The vital significance of genuine faith
While having a positive attitude and facing up to troubling events in your life is important, you also need another critical attribute. It involves cultivating and maintaining a robust, close and lasting relationship with your Eternal Creator.
This means placing faith in Him and His Word, the Bible. Why is this so crucially important? Because your human strength and resolve can take you only so far. However, with the tremendous help and guidance God can provide, you gain a huge advantage.
Having unwavering faith in Him is the essential key—the dynamic spiritual component—you need to respond productively and faithfully when troubling times arise. As Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (emphasis added throughout).
To many people “faith in God” could simply be defined as a belief that He exists. But that idea touches only the very surface of what genuine faith really is. The starting point for faith is made plain in Hebrews 11:6, which tells us, “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”
Faith therefore, involves believing and trusting God (Hebrews 11:1). But this capability cannot be generated or “worked up” from within your heart and mind. Rather it is a divine gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Once given it must be put to work. Faith cannot remain dormant. It must engender positive, productive results, since “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-26).
Living faith requires an enduring and intimate relationship with your Creator. The life of faith, following repentance, baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:38), is one in which you are actively striving to become like your Heavenly Father in character and righteousness (see Matthew 5:48). Faith doesn’t look backward by dwelling on past sins and mistakes. Rather, it focuses, with firm confidence and resolve, on a bright, exhilarating future as a son or daughter in God’s divine family and Kingdom (see 2 Corinthians 6:18).
Genuine faith involves walking with God day by day (Micah 6:8). In doing so, you are in continuous contact with Him through prayer and know that, in due course, you will receive answers to your prayers.
Indeed, when you face troubling times you can go “boldly to the throne of grace” and “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Faith in God helps you cope with the inevitable uncertainties of life. It’s like an anchor to steady you in life’s sometimes stormy, violent seas.
Though you live in a stressful, uncertain world, you don’t have to live in doubt. Why? Because, when you have faith and act on it, you know, as the psalmist wrote, that your “help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:2-3).
Furthermore, as the apostle Paul wrote, “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Paul further explained that worry and apprehension are unnecessary when you have a close relationship with God: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
How can you obtain the peace of mind God generously offers? Again, the key is combining an optimistic attitude with living faith in Him and obedience to His commandments (Romans 8:6; 15:13; Colossians 3:15; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:22; Psalm 119:165).
Examples of biblical faith
As a prime example of living faith, young David of ancient Israel confronted and defeated the Philistine giant Goliath in a one-on-one battle. While professional soldiers shrank away in fear, the shepherd boy David demonstrated complete faith and confidence in God and His unconquerable power to overcome any obstacle. He didn’t let dismal thoughts, negative emotions or fear about Goliath’s size or strength dissuade him, because he knew God was far stronger and more powerful (see 1 Samuel 17:24-48).
This was the same attitude demonstrated by David’s descendant King Hezekiah. In a terrifying situation, the vastly superior army of the Assyrian empire threatened to annihilate the nation of Judah and enslave its people.
What was Hezekiah’s response to this peril? He told his fellow citizens, “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:7-8).
Because the king and the people put their full faith in God and humbly prayed to Him for their defense, He responded by supernaturally destroying “every mighty man of valor, leader, and captain” of the invading army (verse 21). If God did this for the entire nation of Judah, will He not help you in an appropriate way when you face any personal trial, trouble or affliction?
Through faith in God’s all-powerful strength, you can stand strong and not shrink back, prevailing against life’s many stresses. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). Every time you face troubling events, you can seek God in faithful prayer, asking Him to be your first line of defense.
If you do this and remain faithful and obedient, continuing to rely on His help, He promises to give you the spiritual stamina to hold on and triumph (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). He will assist you in facing and resolving problems that seem to defy human logic or solutions.
These issues may include family, personal, financial, employment or health-related troubles. One might involve your deepest heartache and despair after the death of a loved one. One could entail your hurt and distress after the betrayal or duplicity of a mate or a good friend.
No matter the breadth or depth of your suffering or sorrow, if you continue to obey God and diligently seek His help through fervent prayer, He will help you, strengthen you and rescue you. As Psalm 34:19 explains, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
God will help you handle the unforeseen
Certainly unexpected, traumatic events can instantly leave you feeling panicked, boxed in and alone (Psalms 38:21; 119:8). However, you can fully rely on your Heavenly Father to aid you in any shocking, unforeseen situation (see Psalm 91).
In experiencing such events you may not see any apparent way out. Yet God does! He will show you the way! “But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13, Good News Translation).
This spiritual principle was illustrated in the story of another biblical figure, the ancient patriarch Job. Having endured the sudden death of his children and the swift loss of nearly all his earthy possessions, his immediate discouragement was obvious as he “tore his robe, and shaved his head” in signs of mourning (Job 1:20).
But Job endured. What kept him going? It was his profound love and deep respect for His great Creator. Throughout Job’s long, intense trial he never lost faith.
Of course, just as in Job’s case, it would be vital for you to remember that God may not always respond immediately in the way you are asking to resolve the troubles you are undergoing. At times He may decide to have you wait patiently for an answer. But why? To strengthen your faith and build your character (Psalm 37:7-9; Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 5:3-4). Nevertheless, He is faithful to give you the assistance you need.
The apostle Peter understood this and, while comforting and encouraging fellow Christians who were “grieved by various trials,” pointed out that “when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7, New Living Translation).
Whether you suffer a long, debilitating illness, lose a loved one to death, see a job or career end much earlier than expected, experience an economic reversal that leaves you facing harsh financial conditions, or any other bad circumstance, you can be richly confident that God will never let you down. Deuteronomy 31:8 offers this wonderful promise: “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”
So, just like David, Hezekiah and Job, you have a choice about what you’ll do when you meet the unavoidable stresses and strains of life. It’s not a question of whether you’ll encounter difficult times, because they will come. Rather, your well-being in life has everything to do with how you respond to these difficulties. You can immobilize yourself in self-pity, victimhood and despair or you can be positive and optimistic while calling on the immeasurable resources and tremendous love of your Heavenly Father (Hebrews 4:16).
What choice will you make? God awaits your answer!
Practical Ways to Manage Stress
Here are several methods to cope with stress that will help improve your daily life while building godly faith.
• Get sufficient rest. Attempting to function effectively without adequate rest and sleep just doesn’t work. Problems can sometimes seem insurmountable when you are overly tired and stressed. Do your best to obtain the rest you need.
• Try a change of pace. Take an occasional drive, go on a picnic, visit places with beautiful scenery, take a weekend vacation. A variety of activities can help relieve stress and give you a feeling of youthful vigor, even at an advanced age.
• Get physically active. Regular physical activity, if you are able, can offer stress relief. It can be refreshing to both your body and mind. Simply going for a relaxing walk in a park or your neighborhood can be enjoyable and invigorating.
• Improve your diet. Did you know that stress can lead to weight gain? Experts say it would be good to have healthy food choices such as fresh fruits and vegetables on hand when stressors arise. These are good alternatives to eating sugary and high-fat foods which are linked to excess body fat and other health problems.
• Face your problems squarely. Take personal responsibility to resolve stressful concerns and issues. Don’t ignore them, procrastinate or blame others. When you embrace this challenge you will experience an invaluable sense of control and accomplishment.
• Improve time management. Focus on what is most important. Spend time with your family. Make friendships that will last a lifetime. Help coworkers, neighbors and others when needs arise. Take time for close, regular contact with God through prayer and Bible study.
• Change your way of thinking. With God’s help, meditate on what’s positive and uplifting. Make it a priority to build holy, righteous character and faithfulness toward your Creator who gave you your life and graciously sustains it.
• Focus on the future. Avoid reflecting on the stressful and frustrating past you may have experienced. Rather, prepare diligently for your part in God’s soon-coming Kingdom, which will faithfully govern all people in righteousness throughout the world.
When you deal successfully with stress while developing godly faith, you can be a positive example to your family and all others who know you!
Developing Faithfulness and Resilience
Faithfulness is the quality of being devoted, dependable and trustworthy. And one definition of resilience is the ability to adjust to or recover from adversity. When faithfulness toward God and resilience are united together you can better weather life’s inevitable storms. Not only will you find great meaning and purpose in your life through a relationship with God, but with His tremendous help and comfort, you can bounce back from the setbacks you experience. Here are three ways to aid you in developing faithfulness and resilience.
1. Discover and pursue God’s great purpose
You are more than a physical and psychological being. You are also an amazing spiritual creation. To discover and pursue your divine purpose, you must look beyond your earthly interests and goals. Seek out and devote yourself to your Eternal Creator who sincerely desires to have a personal relationship with you. When you pray to Him and study His Word, the Bible, you will learn about His great plan for all humanity. As you discover more about your bright, exciting future in God’s coming Kingdom, your faithfulness to Him will grow and you will find it easier to be resilient when contending with life’s troubles. (To learn more, download or request our free study guide Why Were You Born?)
2. Take personal responsibility
Since God has given you the gift of life, take personal responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions. Resist the common tendency in today’s society to see yourself as a victim due to other people’s actions. Although you cannot always control events, you can be resilient in how you react to them. Ask God in prayer to help you deal with anger, hurt and other negative emotions. Study the Bible’s many examples of how the people of God faced numerous difficulties and yet, in deep faithfulness, relied on Him for His mighty support and guidance. Apply these lessons to your difficult situations and see the outstanding and, yes, even miraculous results.
3. Connect with others
Being close to family and friends can help sustain you when life’s dilemmas bear down on you. Studies have shown that resilient people have at least one other person to interface with. Be sure to take the time to develop close connections with positive, encouraging individuals. Ultimately, it’s your constructive interactions with other people and your intimate relationship with God and faithfulness to Him that will help you maintain your footing in troublesome times.