In the last few weeks, as I’ve chatted with a number of women, I’ve seen how adept they are at juggling and pivoting.
The woman described in Proverbs 31 has the same skill. She is one strong woman, who is praised and honoured for who she is and what she does. This woman is hardworking, competent, and productive, providing for others. She is entrepreneurial and creative, seemingly tireless and able to multi-task. She is caring and hospitable, wise and kind, and keeps her word.
But doing this day in and day out is exhausting, isn’t it? Just thinking about being a woman like this is stressful.
We have many balls to juggle in life. And if everything goes according to our task lists and the events in the calendar, we get through. We may be tired, but most of the time we manage.
But part of life is the unexpected. Our plans go awry, and those balls just start tumbling. And this is when we feel the weariness and stress and think, ‘I can’t keep doing this.’
Recognise warning signs of stress
Our bodies are pretty good at telling us when we’re overloaded. But sometimes we aren’t that good at listening. There are some common signs: trouble sleeping, a racing heart, butterflies in your stomach, breathlessness, not eating properly, feeling emotionally fragile.
This is our body telling us that it needs help. It’s important to recognise these warning signs if we are to manage demands in a healthy manner.
Staying mentally and spiritually strong takes a bit of work, but it’s worth doing. A car needs filling with petrol and regular servicing; our bodies and minds also require care and maintenance to keep them working properly.
Let me encourage you, sister in Christ, to take care of your own mental and spiritual wellbeing. Here are some suggestions that might help you.
1. Treat your body the way it’s designed to work best
Exercise – regular physical exercise dials down our stress response. Adrenaline & other stress hormones are designed to get our bodies moving fast to escape some threat. When we move, it helps dissipate those hormones and is good for both our bodies and our minds. Doing any physical activity is better than doing none.
Sleep – Sleep is God’s gift to renew us. Nearly all of us need 7-9 hours sleep a night. Try to practice good sleep hygiene – having a wind down routine, avoiding screens in the hour before bed, getting up the same time each morning, etc.
Nutrition – Nutritious food is vital to our wellbeing – fresh fruit & vegies, whole grains, pulses, lean protein, etc. Try to avoid highly processed foods and too much sugar.
Relaxation – We need periods of rest to wind down to allow our bodies to calm. Under stress, we tend to breathe fast and shallow, which makes us feel more anxious. So, one way to help calm us is to practice slow, deep breathing into the lower parts of our lungs (which pushes out our diaphragm).
Try to work out other things that you find calming. Perhaps it’s getting out in nature, or listening to music, or doing some stretching exercises.
A helpful question to regularly ask yourself is, ‘What do I need right now?’
2. Work at a healthy mindset
Our mindset is all about how we interpret the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The great thing about our mindset is that it’s changeable. We can reframe the way we think about a situation, that is, we can look at it a different way and that can help settle our stress response.
Here is an example. Sometimes we get thrown by the unexpected. But if you add ‘the unexpected’ to your daily or weekly task list, when the unanticipated happens, you can tick it off your list! Rather than saying, ‘I didn’t get through my task list for today’, or ‘I got nothing done’, you reframe by talking about what you did to respond to the unexpected and notice how well you managed to pivot or juggle.
3. Pay attention to the good and beautiful things around you
Shifting our mindset is easier said than done. Because when we’re under stress, our mind tends to lock on certain thoughts, particularly negative ones. And the more we think about something, the stronger the neural pathways associated with that thought become. It’s like the thought forms a rut in our brain and that becomes hard to get out of.
What can help calm the chatter is to focus on the present, particularly the information we receive through our senses. When we tune in to the things around us – many of them beautiful things – that has a calming effect.
That’s why it’s so worthwhile to notice the trees and the flowers; to listen to the birds; to notice the changing light at sunset. These are little things, but they lift us out of our own headspace and soothe us.
Let me ask you, have you noticed a tree today?
I was listening to the radio and heard a story about headlice. A woman shared her frustrations with managing this ‘little problem’ in her child’s hair. It had become a recurrent and unsolvable problem, so she decided to invest in a comb and take the time to sit and comb her child’s hair and remove the head lice one by one. She said it could take up to a couple of hours. And then she said that she was so focused on removing these tiny creatures that her brain chatter quietened down! Much to her surprise, her time spent removing head lice had left her feeling calm and at peace and connected to her daughter, due to all that physical closeness and touch.
4. Take a break from digital devices
Our phones and other devices can take over our life. Can you give yourself a break from them? And not look at notifications?
5. Practice thankfulness
Being thankful and responding to our great God with joy and gladness is good for us. Why not write three things in a notebook each day you want to thank God for? It will help you notice the good things the Lord has provided in your life.
6. Connect with others
God has made us relational beings and social isolation is harmful for our health. We need friendships and time with others. If you are feeling isolated, particularly from good friends, see if you can carve out space in your schedule to get together for a coffee or meal together.
7. Invest in your spiritual life
The daily habits of bible reading and prayer are so important and I know you know that. Let me say this to you in a different way: ‘It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace’ (Heb 13:9). You help your spiritual life whenever you read God’s word.
I read an article by a Christian psychologist where she said that bringing our concerns before God in prayer is entering into the most emotionally safe space in the entire universe. The place where we are fully known and fully loved.
Find the time and space in your day to draw near to God, knowing that he delights to draw near to you.
Returning to the woman described in Proverbs 31, what was it that brought her the most praise? It wasn’t her competence or her ability to juggle balls and pivot. No, it was the fact that she was a woman who feared the Lord (Prov 31:30). This brought her the most praise at the city gates. This is what matters most.
Here is a word of encouragement to those of you who are not feeling strong either mentally or spiritually. Our God doesn’t take His delight or pleasure in our own individual achievements or strengths:
Are you tired of juggling and pivoting?
None of us drifts into any of these good habits or routines. If you think you need help with any of these, let me encourage you to sign up to do our course Press On: Building resilience & mental wellbeing, a Christian wellbeing course designed to help you stay strong mentally and spiritually.
It is available for you to do online in your own time. Or you can do the course with a small group of friends or your bible study group. This might be the start of building changes into your life that help you manage stresses and challenges in a way that is good for you, your relationships, and your work.