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Crosswalk Blog

The Stress Paradox

Here’s an interesting study: Researchers from the Gallup World Poll asked more than 125,000 people from 121 countries one question: Did you feel a great deal of stress yesterday? It’s a simple question, one that everyone should be able to easily answer. The poll was so extensive that in remote regions the research team even went door-to-door.

From the accumulated data, they computed an index of national stress for each country. What percentage Americans said, yes, they felt stressed-out yesterday? 43 percent. The topped stressed out country was The Philippines, which tallied 67 percent. The least stressed country was the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a small country in West Africa. Worldwide, the average was 33 percent.

The social scientists looked at this information and wondered: Does a nation’s stress index correspond with other indexes, such as happiness? Here’s what they found, much to their surprise: The higher a nation’s stress index, the higher the nation’s well-being and happiness and satisfaction with life.

This is counter-intuitive, to say the least. The researchers noted that people living in countries with high levels of corruption, poverty, hunger, or violence, such as The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, didn’t always describe their days as stressful. And get this: The researchers found that people with high levels of shame and anger and low levels of joy (in other words, unhappy people), had “a notable lack of stress.”

This is being called “the stress paradox.” The fact of the matter is that happy people are not stress-free, nor does a stress-free life guarantee happiness. So in spite of the fact that we’ve come to believe that stress is a bad thing which can kill us, significant levels of stress seem to go along with things people want: love, health, and satisfaction with our lives.

This research is documented by Kelly McGonigal in a new book The Upside of Stress. Stress is a chemical reaction our body has to face a challenge. God gave it to us for a purpose. If you are lost, the stress you feel wants you to solve the problem, think clearly, and be successful. This “creative stress”makes your brain stronger, drives meaning and increases your happiness and resilience.

The key, according to McGonigal, is to change our mindset from avoiding stress to managing stress. We must, she says, trust that we can handle the challenge. It’s good advice. Here’s better advice: Trust that God is with you, and with God all things are possible.

As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.    – Psalm 119:143 (NLT)

Have a great week, and see you in church!

Pastor John