PROVO — From the time of Adam and Eve, there has been stress in the world — by divine design — and generally the stress is beneficial to survival and growth, said E. Karen Shores, who has a doctorate in health science and teaches at Salt Lake Community College and at BYU.
Shores presented a series of classes on "Stress Management: Lessons From the Savior" at the 2014 BYU Campus Education Week.
When stress reaches high levels consistently, people need help, and the Savior can provide that, she said.
People living in the United States have the highest stress of people anywhere in the world, she said.
"Twenty-five percent of American adults are subject to crushing levels of stress nearly every day," Shores said. "One million employees miss work every day due to stress. We spend $800 million each year on anti-anxiety medications."
Shores explained that the stress comes from competing all the time — at work, in the family and in the social world.
When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel that they must attain perfection, life becomes even more stressful.
Shores, who said she was guided by divine promptings as to the principles she would teach in her classes, asked, "Is it even remotely conceivable that our Father in Heaven is unaware of the problem?"
She said stress is talked about extensively in the scriptures, but it's referred to as afflictions, challenges, trials, sorrow and thorns.
The word "stress" isn't in the Topical Guide of the LDS edition of the scriptures and is not a gospel doctrine lesson topic. But when God sent Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, he told them there would be stress associated with their mortal life.
"He gave (afflictions) to us. There is opposition in all things," Shores explained. "Most of us want to go through life with only the good parts."
She pointed out that people tend to get on their knees and ask God for help more readily when they are going through trials.
Often a trial is later regarded as a blessing.
All trials give people experience and promote growth, Shores said. But crushing levels of stress debilitate. High stress levels damage the body.
Shores said it's critical to learn how to manage stress and minimize the physical trauma from stress.
Human bodies were designed to react to situations that require a "fight or flight" response. That's normal, she said.
The key is to return to a relaxed state following a reaction to something we perceive as dangerous or threatening.
It's also good to filter our perceptions through the Savior's spiritual lens.
Maintaining calm and seeking the Savior's peace is immensely helpful, she said.
Keeping the commandments and staying close to the Lord helps minimize the impact of trying events on our spiritual well-being, Shores said.
Breaking the physiological response down by interrupting the stress process and practicing methods of relaxation helps, as does building up a capacity for handling stress through loving, forgiving, studying scripture, serving and habitually feeling grateful.
Shores said it's difficult to capsulize the Savior's formula for surviving stress, so she's planning to write a book, which should be available within the next year.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.