Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Have you ever wondered why there is so much road rage? I have experienced it, and so has my wife. She was driving on her own and a driver behind thought she shouldn’t have stopped at a yellow light. So, at the first opportunity, he swerved past her and clipped the front bumper bar. He was mad and wanted to show her how he felt.
It did shake her up a bit. It happens every day, in this mad quest to get to where we want to go. But why? Why do some drivers get so uptight behind the wheel, and assault others with their menacing attacks? I knew someone else who had to stop and was punched in the face breaking his glasses! It’s complete madness. They are in no mood for road manners.
Hugh Mackay is an Australian social researcher, and he’s looked into road rage—unchecked anger and aggression. And he has a name for it: ‘the last-straw syndrome’. I was quite intrigued when I saw this phrase. It means a little issue that affects the whole of life at one point in time. People living and functioning under so much pressure, that the smallest and insignificant action, like a motorist driving too slow, can trigger a violent and potentially dangerous response. This may also explain some of the domestic violence that goes on in our community.
It’s about the speed and pressure of life. You can see it everywhere—and it has a bad effect on some people. The ‘last-straw syndrome’, as Hugh Mackay calls it, could be due to the pressure of time, conflict in the family or at work, or just a sense of sheer desperation in a difficult situation being faced. It seems the harder we work, the more pressured is our time, and the shorter our fuse. People who are feeling the pressures of life will feel stressed. Someone said, “I feel just like an aerosol can: Contents Under Pressure.”
The Good and Bad Types of Stress
People who live in the fast lane and live on adrenaline which keeps them going are also prone to stress. One of the most stressful experiences in life is being born! In a medical text book, it read, “The first minutes of life are among the most dangerous and stressful moments in life.” A witty medical student wrote in the margin: “The last few can be quite dodgy too!”
The process of birth sends a baby’s adrenaline levels soaring to a pitch not even experienced in a serious heart attack. This chemical reaction has several great results:
- it improves the baby’s lung function
- it increases blood flow to brain and heart
- it stimulates the production of glucose to feed the brain and glycogen to feed the body
- it increases alertness so that the new baby can instantly react to its mother’s embrace and begin the process of response to the love and security on offer there.
So stress can be good for you. But it can kill you. It’s all about managing it. Stress is not ‘out there’ so much as ‘in here’—life is full of pressures; how we relate to them is what determines whether we thrive or go under.
God says: Be still, and know that I am God
How can we avoid doing this damage to ourselves, especially when our lives seem locked into the fast lane with all its adrenaline-induced states that help us get through the day? Here are some ideas for you to work on between now and next week
Recognise the Signals
The first step is to check these symptoms:
- Are you showing the signs of stress—for instance: irritability, impatience, critical attitudes to others, low tolerance levels?
- Are you suffering from aching muscles, tense neck, back problems, jaws tight; do you often catch yourself frowning?
- Are your pulse rate and blood pressure normal most of the time?
- Are you showing the early signs of burnout, such as lack of motivation, low sex drive, constant tiredness, loss of appetite, poor sleep, increased dependence on cigarettes or alcohol, increases in minor ailments such as colds, flu, back pain, stomach upsets, stomach ulcers?
- Are you locked into the fast lane of life?
Adjust your Reaction
I think there’s a need to adjust your reaction. Remember that unhealthy stress sets in because we are constantly in a state of readiness and reaction to pressures on us:
- What’s your reaction to a red light that delays you on the road, or a traffic jam on the motorway? You have no control over the lights or the traffic, but you can choose the status in your life you give these things.
- What are you like when the phone goes yet again and interrupts your flow at work?
- What are you like when the kids make yet another demand on your time?
- Is every interruption ‘the last straw’? James chapter 1 says that our response to pressure tells us the quality of our faith.
Make a Lifestyle Choice to Slow Down
I think we’ve got to slow down—put the recovery period back into our body’s daily routine. So many of the harmful effects of stress come about because we have deprived ourselves of the third stage in the stress cycle: we seem to be constantly on red alert; we seem to be constantly in reaction mode. But we often fail to give ourselves enough time in recovery mode.
Maybe you need to sit down as an individual or couple and start making some lifestyle choices, which may reduce your income, or require you to adjust some outgoings. But they may just save your life, or your marriage, or your health, or any combination of these.
And if you are a young person, and life’s big choices are still ahead of you, now is the time to start putting some sound principles and healthy goals into place in your life. Good habits and right priorities you select when you are 17 will repay dividends well past the age of 70. Don’t join the rat-race your parents may be locked into. Remember: the rat-race is for rats. Join the human race instead. That’s how God intends you to be. And it is healthy.
Take the Advice of Scripture
Let’s consider the following three Bible verses and learn from them:
Mark 6:30-32: “The apostles came and reported to Jesus all they had done. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have chance to eat, Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away in a boat to a quiet and solitary place.” Those disciples had been on two-by-two missions all around the countryside and seen God doing amazing things through them. They were excited and exhausted. Jesus says, “Let’s get away to a quiet place and get some rest now.” That tells you his priorities.
Romans 12:2 (A paraphrase): “Don’t let this world pressure you into conforming to how it thinks your life should be; instead, have a changed mind and attitude that will pressure you from within to find out how good, pleasing and perfect God’s will is.” Stress is not what is ‘out there’, but ‘in here’ in the ways we respond to what is out there, and this verse is a great stress-buster if we will take it to heart.
Psalm 46:10: “Our God says, ‘Calm down, and learn that I am God”. Other versions say “Slow down” or “Be still”. And that’s the key. Stop rushing and being agitated.