Heart Conditions: How stress and joy affect our lives

In Greek mythology there is a deity named Atlas.  Most people know Atlas as the deity responsible for bearing the entire Earth on his shoulders.  What most people don’t know is that Atlas assumed that fate as a punishment, not a responsibility.  Most artistic renderings of this myth demonstrate that Atlas is not enjoying his task of bearing the entire world on his shoulders.

Sometimes it may feel like we can relate to Atlas.  We may figuratively feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders.  We often call this emotion “stress.”

Medical science has demonstrated that emotional stress can have a damaging effect on the body.  Stress can lead to ulcers, high blood pressure, loss of sleep, overeating or even addictions.  The connection between the emotional and the physical is too strong to ignore.

Like Atlas experienced, stress often comes from feeling like the entire world is weighing down on us.  Mortgage payments, deadlines, family issues and a struggling economy can cause us to become wrapped up in issues that we have no solution for.

In many cases the cause of stress is an “ingrown” or “self-centered” lifestyle.  What I mean by that is, when we accept the lie that the world really does revolve around us, or rest on our shoulders, we are unable to bear the emotional burden that follows.  We begin to see every good or bad thing that happens as an effect of our actions.  We actually begin to think that we are more important or more powerful than we really are.  Once we’ve bought into this idea, we become dangerous to ourselves and those around us.

People have known for years that one of the best ways to relieve stress is to take a vacation.  We talk about “getting away for a while” and plan for rest and recreation.  But what is it about getting away that helps us relieve stress?

I believe that simply leaving the rhythms, rituals and ruts of our daily lives causes us to connect to the truth that the world is a lot bigger than we realized, and that we are not responsible for each detail.  If we fail, the sun still comes up tomorrow.  If we make a mistake, most likely no one will die.

Vacations help us to acknowledge how big the world is and how small we are in comparison.  In some instances, this will cause a person to experience the emotion of “joy”.  When we judge ourselves soberly – in context of the entire world, we can take joy in the fact that the world does not rest on our shoulders.

Like the physical connection between stress and the body, there is a connection between joy and the body.  Joy often provides strength.  If you’ve ever known a person that really enjoys his or her job, you may marvel at how much energy that person has.  That joy provides physical strength and staves off discouragement.  On the contrary, people who are stressed are often tired, lethargic and unable to focus.

In order to make the switch from stress to joy, engage in some practices that help you put your life in proper perspective.  Take a different route to work one day.  Take a vacation.  Try new restaurants.

Have new experiences that help you connect to the fact that the world is bigger than you realized and that it is not resting on your shoulders.

Rev. Jim Rudd is the Lead Pastor of True Vine Church Community in Wissinoming.  You can visit the church website or friend-request Jim on Facebook. His column, Heart Conditions, appears on NEast Philly the third Thursday of every month.



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