When was the last time you looked up at the sky?
No, really. Think about it. When did you last stop what you were doing to tilt your head, gaze up, and admire wisps of clouds or an array of stars?
How about the last time you said “hello” to a stranger or started a conversation with someone you didn’t know?
If your answer is “not much lately” or “maybe sometime last summer” or “I just haven’t”, could your stress be the reason why?
Our stressed-out generation
According to recent research, “more than 9 in 10 Gen Z’s say they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress in the past month.”
But stress is more than just a statistic, isn’t it?
As a teenager living in 2019, the source of our stress varies from day to day, but it’s present nonetheless. Whether we worry about our plans for the future, wonder if we’ll survive this semester, or fear a shooting might shatter our school, stress sneaks up when we least expect it, dominating first our minds and then our actions.
So how should we respond to it? Well, here are three ideas:
Look up from your phone
Technology is a driving force behind student stress. Just ask the students of Timberline middle school. Last year, their principal required them to leave their phones at home during school hours, no exception.
His countercultural actions triggered a positive response from his students that neither he nor they expected. Instead of protesting against their principal, the students of Timberline thanked him. Leaving their phones at home during school hours changed their lives, both in school and at home.
It was only when they looked up from the stress of their digital lives that they could pay attention to the real, unfiltered lives in front of them, including their own.
So here’s your challenge: Take regular breaks from your devices this school year, whether that be your phone, laptop, or tablet, even if you don’t consider yourself addicted to it.
When you’re waiting for class to start, talk to your neighbor instead of checking your text messages. When your family gathers, sit and be present with them instead of getting updated on the latest Instagram stories.
Like the students of Timberline, you might learn that looking up from your phone is not only an effective way to respond to your stress, but will also equip you to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15).
Look up with community
Loneliness often accompanies stress. We may feel as though we’re the only one who struggles with stress, or that it’s too minor of a struggle, so why bother asking someone for help?
Inwardly, we want to reach out to strong believers for help and guidance. But when approaching them, we second guess ourselves, wondering if they’d really even care about us and our anxieties.
But friend, what if they do care? What if stress isn’t too minor of a struggle for them? And what if they could direct your eyes upward, to the glory of God, as you deal with the stresses of life and school?
You will never know if you don’t try. So my challenge to you this week is to try. Reach out to two Christians in your life—one peer, and one adult—whom you respect and trust. Ask them, “Hey, will you stand by me this school year? Will you consistently pray with me, speak truth over my life, and challenge me to grow in my relationship with God?”
Rebelutionary, let’s not allow our stress to isolate us from the church; we are tied together by a shared need for Christ and each other. Let’s help each other “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that has been set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Look up from your stress (and to your Sovereign God instead)
I would like to say that I always respond to my stress as a follower of Christ should, that I always look up from my phone and look up with community, but I don’t. I fail often.
When my mind wanders off to the latest news, or the next exam that I just must ace, or my ambitious but unclear plans for after high school, I tend to speed through life, failing to acknowledge God and the people around me. Perhaps you can relate.
But I’m learning that Jesus transforms even the way we respond to stress. We don’t have to isolate ourselves from the church or ignore the people around us any longer. In Matthew 6:25-26, he taches us the right response to our stress and it’s relevant for you and me, just as it was for its original audience of anxious Jews:
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
Notice how Jesus directs our eyes up to the birds and then reminds us that just as he sustains them, so he will continue to sustain us. What he’s teaching here seems so simple, but we are prone to forget it: God is Sovereign; he created us, he created the world, and nothing will thwart his plans for either.
He wants us to trust him, and to trust him we have to look up to him even when we’re stressed.
Look up, rebelutionary, so you can look out
When we’re consumed by stress, we easily overlook others: the checker at the grocery store, the lonely student in the hallway, the little sibling who wants to hang out with us at home. Stress makes us the central concern of our lives. Rather than thinking about people we could potentially serve, we think about our worries, our disappointments, and our struggles, with no concern for our neighbor.
Looking up to Jesus, then, is revolutionary for the stressed teen whose heart beats to make a difference in their world.
It’s only when we look up to Jesus that we can look out to our world and effectively influence others for the glory of God.
So rebelutionary, when you’re stressed, try looking up. Then, with fresh eyes, look out to your world and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
@collinkartcher, Timberline middle school post