By / Nov 22

Due to the pandemic, more emphasis has been placed on mental health. Stress, anxiety, and depression are at the forefront of discussions. However, mothers have suffered from stress long before COVID-19 hit. Careers, parental responsibilities, household chores, and guilt — especially during the holidays — can leave moms feeling burned out. Outside factors (i.e., societal upheaval, finances, etc.) only add to stressful feelings.

As a mom, stress can negatively influence the parent-child relationship. Chronically stressed mothers are more likely to be emotionally unavailable for their children and have a higher risk of developing mental health issues. Dealing with chronic stress can free moms to better handle the big emotions of their children and the day-to-day struggles of life.

Signs of stress

Though we hear a lot about stress, many of us don’t talk about it or understand its effects. What is stress? Stress can be defined as our body’s response to pressure that causes feelings of physical or emotional tension. When we initially encounter a danger or threat, our bodies react with a flight-or-fight response, known as acute stress, causing our nervous system to pump adrenaline into our bodies. If the threat or stress doesn’t subside, our body releases stress hormones. The result of these physiological responses includes: a faster pulse, an increase in blood pressure, changes in airways, extra oxygen to the brain, heightened senses, and changes in blood vessels. These responses are beneficial during times of danger.1Bruce S. McEwen (2007) Physiology and Neurobiology of Stress and Adaptation: Central Role of the Brain. Physiological Reviews, 87 (3), 873-904.

After the stressful event ends, the parasympathetic nervous system will then “reset” the body, stopping the rush of hormones. Problems with stress typically arrive when stress doesn’t cease and our bodies continue to pump stress hormones into our bodies. Acute stress becomes chronic stress.2Sharma DK (2018) Physiology of Stress and its Management. Journal of Medicine Study and Research, 1 (1).

How do you know if you are experiencing chronic stress? Chances are you “feel” stressed, but here are some warning signs:

  • Physical: Chest pain, headaches, GI issues, fatigue, high blood pressure, heart issues, weakened immune system
  • Behavioral: Sleep disturbances, irrational fears, anxiety attacks
  • Cognitive: Rumination, difficulty concentrating
  • Emotional: Irritability, crying, angry, bitterness, mood disorders
  • Relational: Blame shifting, short-fused
  • Spiritual: Disconnected, unrepentant sin, anger toward God, complacency

9 stress-reduction tips

If you can identify with the warning signs, you may be living in a state of chronic stress. So, what can you do about it? You can start by acknowledging two facts: 

  • All stress won’t fully cease to exist on this side of eternity. Stress is a natural consequence of the fall (Genesis 3). Original sin brought the commencement of brokenness into the world, and brokenness causes stress. 
  • God designed us with limitations, and those limitations are for our good. Operating within God’s boundaries can help reduce stress.

With those two things in mind, I want to share a few tips to improve stress levels and live within God’s limitations. It may not be possible to accomplish every suggestion all at once, so start small. Pick one or two stress-reducing items, and do those consistently. You can build upon your progress over time by adding other stress relievers. 

Life-enhancing tasks: God has given us a brain to acquire knowledge. Learning a new skill helps stockpile cognitive reserves. Improvement in cognitive functioning provides a greater ability to deal with stress. For overwhelmed mothers with little free time, try to eliminate a life-draining item first (i.e., social media), and replace it with a life-enhancing task (i.e., educational audiobook).

Thinking patterns: A mother’s perception of her parental role and responsibilities plays a key factor in stress levels. Do you view motherhood as a God-given role or a burden? Believing motherhood is unimportant creates feelings of being trapped, which is stressful. Any thought regarding motherhood as insignificant needs to be taken captive, as it goes against God’s Word (1 Cor. 10:5) and harms the parent-child relationship. Thought logs and journals can help uncover negative thinking patterns or lies that trap us, while memorizing Scripture gives truth to combat negative thinking.

Physical activities: God created our bodies to depend upon certain physical activities. Those activities, as repeatedly shown in clinical research, also help reduce stress. Here are some of them:

  • Exercise: Our bodies were made for movement. Things like exercise lead to anti-inflammatory responses, better physical health, improved memory, increased attention, and overall better brain functioning. Do you have trouble exercising because you are always with children? Put them in a stroller or have them ride their bikes, and get moving with them!3Jackson, EM.(2013) Stress Relief: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management. ACSM’s Journal of Health and Fitness. 17 (3). 14-19
  • Sleep: Sleeping the recommended amount can be tough, especially for moms whose children don’t sleep through the night. However, it isn’t just moms with little kids who are sleep deprived. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1 in 3 adults do not obtain the recommended amount of sleep, which is 7–9 hours. Sleep deprivation can contribute to weight gain, irritability, lack of concentration, fatigue, and health issues, all of which exacerbate stress. To get better sleep, try committing to an appropriate bedtime and nighttime routine, eliminating electronics an hour before bed, and consulting with your doctor if you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. And don’t forget to take naps.4
  • Healthy eating: Our bodies need certain nutrients to thrive and feel good. A poor diet can lead to vitamin deficiency, creating a whole host of negative physical and emotional side effects. Eating healthy can reduce health issues, which in turn, reduces stress. 

Rest: Research suggests relaxation and meditation are two avenues to counteract stress. As Christians, we know God has called us to rest (Sabbath), pray, and meditate specifically on his Word. God even modeled the Sabbath for us when he created the world. It’s okay, even commanded, to rest from our to-do lists.

Community: Throughout Genesis we see all the good things God made, until his statement in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” God created us for relationships. In fact, our brains are hardwired to need others.5Siegel, D., & Bryson, T. (2012) The Whole Brain Child. Bantam Book. Find other Christians to connect with so you can “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2 NIV). 

Enjoyment: God wants us to enjoy good things. He made the sunset beautiful, food delicious, and friendship necessary — for his glory and our pleasure. Pleasurable activities like vacations, date nights, and coffee with friends are all good things and can help reduce stress. The caution lies in making good things into idols. Moderation and right perception about pleasurable activities are key. 

Ask for help: Acknowledging that we do not encompass every spiritual gift or every skill frees us to ask others for help. Partnering with others reflects God’s beautiful design of diversity and gives others opportunities to utilize their God-given gifts. Trying to do everything independently creates stress, and can be a form of pride, so ask others for help.

Flexibility: Chaos feels hectic and stressful. Why? We were created in God’s image, and he is not chaotic (1 Cor. 14:33 NIV). To help reduce chaos and stress, create a flexible schedule for you and your family.

Finances: Failing to use our finances wisely is a major source of stress. God gives us principles in Scripture that help us steward what he’s given us for his glory. Obeying God’s Word and putting money in its proper place reduces stress. How we use our resources will look different from person to person, but there is no doubt that Christians are not to be slaves to money. The Money Challenge by Art Rainer, and Redeeming Money by Paul David Tripp are two recommended reads for financial management.

Motherhood is a profound, but sometimes stressful, God-given role. He will give you what you need to care for your children. And remember, even amongst the stress, God is using motherhood to sanctify you and your children to look more like Christ.

For more information from Dr. Sarah Rainer on “The Overwhelmed Mom,” check out The Mom Village Podcasts: part 1 and part 2.

  • 1
    Bruce S. McEwen (2007) Physiology and Neurobiology of Stress and Adaptation: Central Role of the Brain. Physiological Reviews, 87 (3), 873-904.
  • 2
    Sharma DK (2018) Physiology of Stress and its Management. Journal of Medicine Study and Research, 1 (1).
  • 3
    Jackson, EM.(2013) Stress Relief: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management. ACSM’s Journal of Health and Fitness. 17 (3). 14-19
  • 4
  • 5
    Siegel, D., & Bryson, T. (2012) The Whole Brain Child. Bantam Book.
By / Feb 24

When I first transitioned to the ICU floor as a nurse, I began to have stress dreams about work. As is classic in stress dreams, there was always some situation I couldn’t handle, a doctor “giving me trouble,” or some other difficult predicament I had to navigate without the resources I needed. After about a year, as my confidence grew, these dreams subsided. When nurses new to the job ask if “those horrible or weird dreams” will stop, I assure them they will. Give it a year, I tell them. It’s normal to take home some stress from an intense job.

But now, after being a nurse for 10 years, the stress dreams have returned. I recently dreamed I was a charge nurse managing a full-capacity floor of critically ill patients. Because of increased COVID-19 numbers, nurses were filling staff shortages on our unit. They were overwhelmed and undertrained, and we lacked essential resources. It was my job to keep everyone safe and alive—and I was terrified these challenges would end up harming patients and staff. I awoke panicked and sweating. What was striking, though, was not my dream’s differences from reality but rather its similarities. My stress dreams now reflect my stressful reality.

On a daily basis I see and experience extreme emotions in the Intensive Care Unit. There are always too many patients or a shortage of staff or a lack of resources or issues getting the right staff to the right patients. People are upset about how the restrictions are ruining their lives, and the stress feels crushing. My body aches from the masks, lack of breaks, extra hours. My heart is heavy with patients who can’t see their loved ones or procedures delayed because staff are sick. 

Seeing people as Jesus did

There is no quick and simple solution. This is life right now. But as a follower of Jesus, I am seeking to be light in a dark place. When I leave work and hear phrases like, “Life has to get back to normal sometime” or “It’s my right to not . . . ” or “This is just politics or money or fear mongering,” my head drops, and with tears in my eyes I whisper, “You just don’t know.”

Even if there is truth in such statements, what is the point? Is that the point Jesus would want us to focus on? When Jesus saw the crowds approaching him—full of sick, discouraged, weary people, from all walks of life,—he looked at them and had compassion on them. Even when he was weary himself, he met these people—in all their pain and fear and anger—with love and compassion (Matt. 9:36, Mark 6:34).

As Christ’s body, we should see the people, not an agenda. See the people and, as Jesus did, have compassion.

I have a front-line view of the discouragement and exhaustion that is a direct result of COVID-19. There’s no time to pick a side, no time to get political. People are hurting. A whole lot of people across any number of vocations are hurting and limping through life right now. Their families and friends are suffering for it. As Christ’s body, we should see the people, not an agenda. See the people and, as Jesus did, have compassion.

A stressful reality

My reality is filled with stress. However, this is also reality: the Lord is good and sovereign. He institutes governments and so we have no need to fear (Romans 13:1-2). He understands viruses, how an acute illness becomes chronic, how a body deteriorates and dies. He knows it all. 

As we seek to follow Jesus’ example, let’s remember all those on the frontlines who are making sacrifices for the common good. Many of us are frustrated, exhausted, sick, and away from our families. But every day we are working long hours, caring for our patients. And believe me, we most desperately want this pandemic to end.  

Normal is still far away. In the meantime, see the people and have compassion. People can’t pay their bills—help them financially. People can’t see their families—be their family from a distance. Prepare gift bags of snacks and treats for those who work extra hours. Take their dogs for an extra walk. Cry with them. Laugh with them. Support their spouses. Make sure kids have help with their homework. Try to resist the urge to lecture others with your opinions, because to those who are serving or suffering, callous words only increase the burden. 

If we look for an excuse not to see or serve people, we’ll find one. So don’t. Just look around. Then be like Jesus and have compassion. Trust Jesus, love people, and please wear a mask. 

By / Dec 17

Holidays are often the few days a year when we go home and spend the night with our parents. During college, we longed for the serenity and familiarity of home. But, in recent years, a lot of us have been pulling a family of our own in to our parents’ driveway, and home doesn’t have quite the luster it used to have.

The holidays are often the few days of the year that wreck the sleep and attitude cycles of our kids that will leave us spending weeks, if not months, rebuilding.

  • Our parents (or grandparents, in-laws, etc.) probably won’t send our kids back to their bedrooms when they wake up at 4:30 a.m.—and we aren’t there to give instruction, because we’re asleep like every sane human being should be.
  • Their crazy uncle will probably say some prejudiced or insensitive thing around them that they’ll attach to, and we fear they’ll never be rid of it without very expensive therapy.
  • Or maybe the kids will have a 24-hour cycle of television and movies, seemingly undoing years of our conscientious parenting practices.

Our kids may learn new words and new levels of disrespect for their authorities, and our relatives might disregard all rules, social and familial, all in the name of loving our kids. What’s more, they will probably get more Christmas presents than we’d like them to get. Yet, as I consider how stressed out these situations make me and how I often react, I am convicted. In Christ, there’s a better, more grace-filled way to respond. Here are five suggestions to prepare you and reshape your thinking before you take off for that holiday vacation.

1. Rethink your legalism. When things don’t function exactly like they do in our home, we can react with snide little comments that are meant to show our moral superiority as a parent—comments like: We don’t let them watch tv when they first get up. We don’t let them eat junk food indiscriminately. We have a bedtime of 8:00.

Reacting like that is indicative of the sneaky sin of legalism: passively aggressively claiming your morality as superior to anyone else. When we react this way, no one in our family will call us on it because they’re usually trying to figure out how to walk on eggshells around us. In addition, legalism won’t win a single soul to our perspective. Instead, like me, there will be a still small voice in your heart that will be crying out: you white-washed tomb.

As believers, we ought to respond in light of the gospel. Soul-satisfied, gospel-contentment is the better testimony to all that there is a King who rules our hearts and who helps us walk in patience toward one another.

2. It won’t kill your kids. A few grams of sugar or a few hours of television won’t hurt our children in the long run. I know it seems like they’re more apt to be disrespectful because our parental authority is undermined, but three days at Grandmother’s house isn’t going to be the thing we think about if we have to bail them out of jail when they’re 17.

And we need to remember that they’re children.They’re not perfect, and it’s about how we respond to their sin that makes a difference at this point in their lives. Sure, try to set them up for success, but don’t rush to panic and frustration when they fail. The few hectic days of vacation may actually be some of your kids’ best memories.

3. Take the opportunity to shepherd your children. This is actually what we want as parents. We will be able to see what influence is being exerted, undo it, turn it by interpreting it for them, and train them how to handle it. Isn’t this a better place for them to learn these things than in places where we don’t know the parents and environments that are influencing our children?

Anticipating these training moments, we have what we call a pep talk—the standard “who you are and whose you are” speech—before we head out on vacation. We remind our kids there are things that relatives will do that we don’t do in our home, but that we respect the wishes of others when we share their home. We remind them to be positive influences on their cousins and other family members. We remind them about the chain of command. Then, after it’s all said and done, we strive to help our kids interpret how they’ve been influenced.

4. You’ve been training them well, give your kids the space to influence others. While we’re there to shelter and protect our kids from the world, our families might be the only gospel-centered presence our extended family encounters until next year. Strive to make that gospel-centered exposure less about a begrudging lists of do’s and don’t’s and more about something that stands out to your family members as the only time of the year that they were able to tangibly see another world—one that made their heart skip a beat because they saw it’s power and joy and peace.

5. Play offense. All the things that usually annoy us, like too much TV time or too much junk food, is usually a defensive measure, designed to pacify and buy time. Instead of sitting back and letting our dissatisfaction stew, we ought to step up and play offense.

  • Start a wrestling match or play hide-and-seek outside.
  • Gather the kids and tell a fun story.
  • Draw a picture, put together a puzzle, play pretend spies or army or cowboys or whatever your “thing” is.
  • Bake some cookies, and let the kids help.
  • Take the crew on a walk around the neighborhood and point interesting things out to them.
  • Start a football game where every grownup has to stay on their knees.

Take the initiative to maximize your influence on the little (and big) people around you. Show your kids and the adults with you that you don’t have to be uptight to be a good parent—or a Christian. You can have fun, enjoy the moment and still be an intentional shepherd of your child’s heart.

So, whether or not you donate all of your kids’ new Christmas presents to the church nursery this week or wait a month, and whether or not your kids find a few new words for their vocabulary, remember whose you are.  And remember who you are.

It shouldn’t surprise us that our parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles aren’t fully on board with our parenting methodologies. And in a world of sin, there will be some muddying of the waters and confusion in children’s hearts. We’re there to make sense of the chaos, not prevent it; we’re there to undo the curse, not micro-manage it. The gospel-believing parent knows the curse is everywhere and is sometimes most evident in those we love. And there’s no room in gospel-centered parenting for a gospel-centered scrooge.

By / Dec 4

A few weeks ago, we made a quick trip to the mountains, just long enough to gaze at a breathtaking blanket of stars, breathe deeply of the crisp air, and soak in the mountains’ silence.

I wanted to bottle it all up and bring it back home for the weeks ahead.

But we returned to a slew of festive invitations and scheduling logistics. I felt myself sucking air as I looked at an already busy schedule.

And it’s just the beginning of December.

How ironic that our calendars should hemorrhage with activity during what should be one of the most peaceful seasons of the year—a sacred time to remember and reflect, to give thanks, to honor him who came to quiet the frenzy of our lives. In the book of Luke, Zechariah says Christ came “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” But would we be able to recognize that peace even if it stared us in the face?

Contrary to popular opinion, we’re not victims of the holiday season. We choose to say yes to three holiday feasts, twelve Christmas parties, five concerts, one more dinner engagement, and superfluous gift-giving. Much of it is really good, important stuff. It’s friends and family and festivity. It’s community and commitment. But is it possible that some of this good stuff is cheating us of the best?

Imagine how absurd it would be for a child on Christmas morning to fixate on the wrapping paper and dismiss the gifts inside. Yet look how easily we get wrapped up in the whirlwind of festivities and miss Jesus.

All through Scripture, we see that what God really wants from us is our hearts, our love, our trust. Not our seismic insanity.

Maybe it’s too late to fix the frenzy this year—but one way or another, we can still make time this holiday season to hush our hearts in the presence of the Prince of Peace. To rest both body and soul.

This will look drastically different for each of us, as we find ourselves in a variety of circumstances and seasons, but let me give you a few simple ideas for slowing things down:

  • Reserve a few evenings on your calendar for staying in and resting. (And don’t apologize for doing it.)
  • Make one less holiday dish, simplify your decorations, or buy fewer Christmas gifts—and spend that saved time lighting a few candles, drinking hot chocolate and watching this video.
  • Turn off all screens (laptop, phone, etc.) an hour or two before bed—and read or journal.
  • And for you moms with little ones, consider the example of Susanna Wesley, the mother of famed Charles and John Wesley: She taught her 10 children that when her apron was over her head, she was praying and they were not to disturb her.

Friends, we are not at the mercy of our circumstances. We can set the stage for deeper communion with God. In the busiest times of life, it's tempting to either neglect the Word or treat it as another checkbox on our never-ending to-do list. Slowing everything down and quieting our calendars is a good first step in experiencing and enjoying Jesus again. Once our minds and bodies are in a restful state, we can often hear him better.

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind” (Ecc. 4:6).

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).

Do you remember the story of the woman who broke her precious jar of perfume and anointed Jesus’ head? The disciples “were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’” Who could argue with that kind of efficient, generous, ministry-minded reasoning? But Jesus commended her, saying, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

For me (and I’m guessing for you too), time is as precious and valuable a commodity as what was in that jar. This daily treasure of 24 hours can so quickly be spilled out on nonstop needs, festive events and people’s expectations. But as we prayerfully consider our calendar, and learn to make room for resting in Christ, we might once again experience the beauty of this holiday season and hear him say to us,

“You have done a beautiful thing to me.”