Picture this: a pair of English degrees, two restaurant jobs and a combined $80,000 in student loan debt.
That’s what my husband and I found ourselves with when got married in 2011, at the tail end of the United States’ economic recession. At first, it was sort of charming to start our marriage in a hole-in-the-wall apartment, dreaming about all we would do when we were free from debt as we sat on the floor eating scrambled eggs for dinner. But five years later, we’ve barely made a dent in our loans. And the ever-looming knowledge that we owe somebody that much money is, well, stressful.
We’re not alone.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 18 to 35 year olds are the most stressed out generation ever—earning ourselves the nickname “Generation Stress.”
Student loan debt, though, is just one piece of the puzzle. Combine it with an unfavorable job market, low salaries and deferred dreams, and we millennials have plenty of reasons to be anxious.
And really, student loans or not, we all encounter stressful moments and seasons. For Christians, this isn’t surprising: The Bible even tells us to anticipate trials and suffering. But for many of us, stress has become a lifestyle—and when we leave it unchecked, it can escalate into anxiety and steal the hope Jesus died to give us (1 Peter 1:3).
Though it has plenty of physical and mental repercussions, when stress becomes the posture of our lives, it becomes a spiritual problem. It’s time to make a change.
Stress dishonors our bodies.
If you’ve ever been exhausted or suffered from a tension headache, you know that stress manifests physically. The APA reports that the 82 percent of millennials who have experienced stress in the past month say their stress has taken a toll on their physical and mental health—a scenario so common that up to 90 percent of U.S. doctor visits are for stress-related issues.
Stress can also propel us into other unhealthy behaviors, like alcohol abuse, over- or under-eating and lack of sleep—all of which have consequences of their own. The apostle Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 6:19 to honor our bodies because they house the Holy Spirit.
To live a lifestyle of stress damages our bodies and minds, both of which He bought with a price.
Stress reduces our capacity to love others.
Jesus tells us that the second greatest commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are made to live and serve in community, encouraging the body of Christ around us. But stressed-out millennials, according to the APA, tend to feel more isolated and lonely due to their stress.
They are also more likely to “tune out” with unhealthy coping mechanisms like excessive sleep and TV binging, which only propagate the issue. How can we carry God’s message of hope to others when we’re isolated—or worse—if we allow our circumstances to steal our hope altogether?
Stress shifts us into survival mode so we can only focus on ourselves, at the expense of our ability to keep Jesus’ command of loving the people around us.
Stress keeps us from worship.
We are also made to worship the God who created us as we live in relationship with Him, praising Him in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In my experience, stress is a lot like tunnel vision. We allow our circumstances to become bigger than God, and before long, they are all we can see—and we aren’t likely to worship a God we’re not looking at.
Fixated by the mess right in front of us, we miss out on the praise and gratitude that results from a dynamic relationship with Him—and, ironically, the antidote to the stress itself. Looking to Jesus promotes worship, but looking to our stress promotes bitterness and anger.
Stress is unbelief.
In a hustle to get out of debt and make more money so we can pursue our dreams, we can run ourselves ragged at the expense of what’s right in front of us.
We’ve gotten so used to stress that for some of us, it has begun to shape how we think about God. At the root of this type of stress response is, ultimately, unbelief. A lifestyle of stress and its subsequent coping mechanisms say “God is not in control.” It’s helpless, hopeless and joyless, and, frankly, an offensive response to the Gospel. If what God says is true, and Jesus died to carry the burdens too heavy for us to bear, we should be some of the happiest people on earth. So while we may not be able to change our circumstances, it’s time to change our perspective on them—for the good of our health, our relationships and most of all, our spiritual lives.