Stress Relief in Stressful Times

by | Nov 12, 2020

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord  in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:13-14 (NRSV)

Stress became an ever-increasing dynamic in my life at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Some semblance of relief was my fervent prayer, so I found myself constantly trying to live my faith in new ways, albeit without any familiarity of the emotional and spiritual terrain in which I found myself.

Everything about coronavirus was virtually unknown except the viciousness with which it devastated our lives, hurling our levels of grief and loss to all time highs. Work life, personal life, and family life all seemed to blur together with a total disregard for healthy boundaries and balance. A colleague shared a Facebook posting which restated an old familiar mnemonic to remember the number of days in each month… “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have thirty-one, except March which has 8,000!” I agreed, for my life had become one extended period of hours leading to the next extended period of hours leading to whatever came next.

To my dismay, what came next was an onslaught of racial injustice that ripped the country apart in ways that had not been experienced since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. As an African-American man, I felt anxious and afraid that I lived in a country that was actively killing people who looked like me. I remember rerouting my daily walks through predominately white residential neighborhoods to busy thoroughfares in an attempt to avoid any confusion that I may have been staking out their house for a future violent intrusion. The days continued to blur together, but now with an energy that was even more disturbing than before.

In the midst of it all, I strived for a rhythm that would enable me to navigate through the emotional volatility of the current time. I “ZOOMED” with friends. I exercised regularly. I continued my spiritual practices of reading scripture, prayer, and meditation. 

I tried everything and allowed myself to fall into a false sense of security, thinking that I was surely closer to a space of mental health than I was before all this madness started. 

But then the 2020 election season kicked into high gear, bringing with it a madness and chaos that further exacerbated all of the happenings of the previous eight months. I didn’t think the emotional terrain could get any more treacherous, but it did. And all I could do was to wait for some semblance of a breakthrough, for better or worse.

I was stressed out! But I also knew that claiming my emotional state would not be enough to shift my emotional state. 

So, I reflected upon the reality that situations, in and of themselves, are not stressful. What makes a situation stressful is your assessment of your ability to handle the situation. Well, my assessment of my ability to handle the madness of the current time was fair, at best. Sure, I had been in many situations in the past in which I had to multitask very difficult and seemingly impossible situations, but currently, I found myself in a space in which past tools for stress relief just didn’t seem to do the trick. Past tools helped, but there was something missing and I was at a loss to identify it. 

Truth be told, all of the current happenings had a personal common denominator–racial injustice and inequity. My keen sense of the obvious kicked in and I realized that I had not been specific enough in identifying my core emotion…anger. 

I remembered that anger is a manifestation of two emotions; greatest fear and deepest hurt. 

As an African-American man, one of my greatest fears is that I will be totally devalued. That fear is connected to my deepest hurt, which is living in a nation that endorses such a fear solely based upon the color of my skin.

When I identified what I was feeling, my next step was to identify what I needed. I needed encouragement. Encouragement that affirmed me as a child of God made in God’s image. Encouragement that affirmed me as a product of my family that worked diligently to equip my younger brother and me with an excellent education which opened doors of opportunity that had been closed to them. And encouragement that affirmed me as a sojourner in faith connected to a God who has consistently looked beyond my faults and seen my need.

Intentionally waiting for both personal and spiritual revelation is a game in life that can relieve your stress by stretching your being. So in the midst of this stress-inducing season, I invite you to be encouraged by the Psalmist who affirms,

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!


The Rev. Dr. Robert Phillips
Canon for Leadership Development and Congregational Care