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  What is a stressor?

2 Corinthians 4:8-9, GNT

We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.

Recently I experienced a pretty bumpy ride on the commuter flight I regularly take. Across the aisle from me, a woman was engrossed in her work. Papers lay scattered across the seat next to her. She never even looked up as we bounced from air pocket to air pocket. In front of me, an older man, white-knuckled, moaned, “Oh my God. Oh my God,” in a never-ending litany. Which person’s stress was caused by the turbulence?

You might be tempted to say that the man was the one experiencing stress caused by the turbulence. In fact, the answer is neither passenger, because it wasn’t turbulence that caused the stress; it was the reaction to the turbulence that caused the stress. You often see someone riding out one of life’s more bumpy trips—illness, death, unemployment, relocation—with little sign of stress, while someone else faced with a similar challenge falls to pieces.

It’s easy to see how this can happen if you picture life as a seesaw. On one end of the seesaw is a positive reaction to a situation; on the other end is a negative reaction. When you react positively, you feel strong, empowered, confident. When you react negatively (as the unhappy airline passenger did), you feel angry, worried, nervous, unhappy, powerless, and upset. It would be great if you could stay on the positive side of stress, but people react both ways, depending on the situation. That reality causes your life seesaw to shift up and down between feeling okay and feeling stressed out. Stress is an everyday fact of life. You can’t avoid it.

Often we attribute a person’s ability to deal with stress as a sign of how pious or holy he or she is. We think that really good Christians never have a seesaw that tilts to the negative, and if our seesaw gets stuck on the negative side, something must be wrong with our Christian walk.

What causes you to react—either positively or negatively? Here’s the cruncher: everything! Everything in life is a stressor.

What is a stressor? A stressor is anything that requires you to react. Stressors can be people. I’m sure you can name a few people who cause you to react—positively or negatively. Stressors can be places, such as the dentist’s office. Stressors can be situations, such as a meeting with your child’s teacher. Events can be stressors: a big birthday, a wedding, a funeral. Stressors can be things as varied as an unexpected bill, weight gain, a phone call. People, places, situations, events, and things—all are stressors. You are continuously reacting and adapting to these stressors as they come into your life.

Whether you are experiencing major life changes or minor everyday hassles, your reaction to these stressors creates the stress response on your seesaw. The way you adapt or cope determines whether your seesaw tilts to the “feeling okay” side or the “feeling stressed out” side. You can’t change the person, place, situation, event, or thing, but you can change how you react.

What are some key stressors you are experiencing?