Joyful Stress

"It's not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it." Hans Selye

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.


THE CLOSER WE GOT to the event, the more anxious I became. There were so many “what ifs.”

What if the main speaker didn’t present the topic well? She was a new addition to our church and not even a member yet. But her personal health journey story was so impressive. At least the bits and pieces she told various ones of us in casual conversations had sparked enthusiasm in our church’s health committee. And she had agreed to tell her story at our next health program. But that was several months ago. Would she even show up?

What if the nine really good cooks from our church, whom we had invited to bring food to the program, ended up bringing recipe samples that weren’t appealing to the audience? We had planned to focus on a plant-based diet as our main theme, as it was the diet of choice of our guest speaker—a diet that had significantly improved her life.

What if there wasn’t enough help to set up and decorate the fellowship hall? Or to clean up afterward?

What if we set up too many or too few chairs? Or made too many or too few handout materials? Or prepared too little or too much food and drink?

What if NO GUESTS SHOWED UP? Our previous two health programs had resulted in only a handful of attendees. We, as a committee, were discouraged, but not defeated. In spite of our uncertainties, anxieties, confusion, and, yes, all the stress involved, we were determined not to give up. But we decided we would wait for some sort of inspiration to hit us before planning another event.

Then along came the new woman with a lifeexperience story that blew us away.

We hear a lot about stress and how detrimental it can be to health, well-being, and longevity. However, stress is a normal part of life, and our bodies were designed to experience  and deal with it. With any significant change in life or routine, our bodies can react physically, mentally, and emotionally to help us survive and adjust. Stress can be helpful by keeping us watchful and alert, motivated and ready to avoid negative situations and danger.

Stress that is detrimental to health is that which is ongoing without relief. This then becomes a situation called “distress,” which over time disturbs the body’s internal balance, resulting in a host of potential physical and emotional problems such as headaches, gastric upset, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sleep disturbances, depression, panic and anxiety attacks, and a worsening of pre-existing diseases.

Chronic and debilitating stress is directly associated with six of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung illnesses, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.


Yes, indeed! Just take a look at some of the high-stress occupations people actually choose as their life work:

1. Emergency department nurse or physician
2. Emergency medical services (ambulance drivers and rescue personnel)
3. Police officer
4. Air traffic controller
5. Firefighter
6. Commercial airline pilot
7. Educator (classroom teacher)
8. Social worker
9. Active military personnel
10. Event planner
11. Powerline installer
12. Parent

We could ask ourselves, “Who in their right mind would choose the high stress, extreme challenges, and periodic dangers of any of these professions as their lifetime occupations?” It comes down to joy of service, love of a challenge, personal fulfillment, opportunity for continued learning, and outcome reward. Also, what would be detrimentally stressful to one person may not be so to another.

Any occupation or situation life throws at us can contain its own level of stress. The key to surviving, whether the stress is short-term or continual, is how we choose to deal with it. A few suggestions that have proven helpful:

• Start each day with God. Read, pray, and enjoy His presence and peace. Take time to worship with others.
• Look for ways to infuse joy and expressions of thankfulness into the events of each day.
• Keep a sense of humor. Laugh a lot.
• Reframe problems as challenges.
• Do something to brighten someone else’s day.
• Keep a clear conscience.
• Communicate. Be more assertive (in a nice way). Discuss your opinions, ideas, and feelings with others.
• Make your health a priority. Take a walk. Breathe fresh air. Eat good-for-you food. Get enough sleep. Drink water. Watch your weight. Keep in touch with family and friends.
Take time to relax. Get those annual checkups.
• Set limits. It’s OK to say “No” to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
• Make time for hobbies, creativity, and learning something new.
• Surround yourself with order and splashes of beauty.
• Seek counseling if overwhelmed.

The day of the event finally arrived. All our fears and anxieties melted away as one by one each component of the program fell effectually into place.

The decorators and room arrangers made everything look welcoming and attractive. All the cooks arrived with their wonderfully prepared and appetizing dishes—and all plant-based. At the end there were only crumbs left of the delicious meal. The guest speaker arrived on time. Her presentation was well-prepared and effectively delivered. Many people
came, and a good clean-up crew stayed behind to put everything back in order.

We basked in the many comments of appreciation for a helpful, educational program. Our health committee came away from the experience highly excited and eager to begin planning something similar for the near future. Lessons learned would make aspects of the task easier. And the stress from all the work involved and the uncertainties and fears of failure had been forgotten in the JOY of ministry and of accomplishment.

Success had been worth it all!



Kay Frances, The Funny Thing about Stress (Morton-Wells Press,2010), p. 144.


Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.