What is your “default” when you are stressed?
This is something I have been thinking about lately as I have been juggling a lot with both work and at home. Life is full of good things, but it is hard when so many “good things” hit at once.
So Many Good Things…
At home, I am busy with three teens, two of whom are graduating seniors. My adult kids are out of the house, but they still need their mom.
Work is busy too. I just launched my fourth book, Advent: The Story of Christmas. Even though the Christmas season is over, I am still working to be present for the community of readers who joined me this past November and December. And, believe it or not, I am already preparing for a relaunch of the book next fall.
I am working hard for my first book too, Arms Open Wide: The Call to Linger in the Savior’s Presence. That community is gaining members who discovered Arms Open Wide while reading my Advent book. I am excited to offer them, as well as loyal readers who have been around for awhile, fresh ways to experience the book including a new online study for Lent and a fresh podcast.
Then, there is my new project, a book I have been aching to write for years. This time, the subject is mercy. I am researching, writing, but also working to craft a great book proposal so that the new book can find a home.
It is a lot, and it makes sense that I am stressed.
The problem is how I typically handle it. In times of stress, I have an automated response, a “default” if you will and it is built on a lie.
I begin to measure my self-worth by my productivity.
I believe, and live out of the lie, that if I keep the kids healthy and happy, increase my readership, strengthen my platform, and sell my book, then I am of of worth.
If I don’t, then I’m not.
It is a joyless, exhausting way to live.
My stress “default” is not a thoughtful, rational response. It doesn’t even live in that part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex). Instead, it is a full-time resident of my amygdala, my “lizard brain.” And that bad boy is all instinct and reaction, fight or flight. It can be really handy in situations that require actual fighting or fleeing like the time that guy jumped out of the bushes at me with a knife when I was running (another story for another time.)
Otherwise, it can cause some serious problems.
Abraham’s Lizard Brain
It makes me think of Abraham. Now that was a guy with some seriously dangerous lizard brain responses. One particular one that drives me crazy was his tendency to put his wife, Sarah, in vulnerable situations when he felt threatened.
“Hey babe,” Abraham would say, “I am worried that king over there will attack me because you are so beautiful. Tell him you are my sister and allow him to take you into his harem to protect me, okay?” (My paraphrase of Genesis 12 & Genesis 20).
Yes, he did this to her more than once.
Thankfully, God was watching out for Sarah. And…Abraham’s story shows us God can use even the most flawed of us for his purpose. Even better, there is hard evidence that he figured out what to do when stressed later in his life. See “Get the Story” below.
Mindfulness is Key
I am working to figure it out too. This week, I made a promise to myself to take steps to get out of my lizard brain by using mindfulness. And there are lots of ways to get there!
Here are some that work for me:
- Taking a walk
- Taking time to remember the times God has come through for me, and thank Him for them one by one.
- Reading, and praying, the Psalms
What about you? Do you have an unhealthy default in times of stress too? If so, what mindfulness practices help you leave the lizard brain behind?
And Great News, Leaders- Mindfulness Works for You too-
Get the Story!
Abraham eventually learned to lean into God’s presence in times of disappointment and stress. Read about one of those times in “Count the Stars,” Advent: The Story of Christmas (Dayspring 2019) You can get your copy here.