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Stress is a mindset more than circumstances

When I moved to New Orleans in 1998 to begin my seminary studies, new students were required to undergo a written psychological test and stress assessment.

If your score was mid-range, that was considered normal, and a good thing. Score too high, you’d have to talk to a counselor prior to attending any classes. Score too low, you’d have to talk to a counselor because you were probably not telling the whole truth.

The test required you to rate yourself by answering “yes” or “no” to situations that were ranked according to perceived stress. My stress level rose (on the test) as I answered each question.

Yes, I had just moved, 10 points. I had just bought a house, 10 points. I had changed jobs, 10 points. My wife had changed jobs, 10 points. My kids changed schools, I had become a full-time student, I had just observed Christmas and more than one family birthday. 10 points each.

Really? Christmas? You bet, it can be stressful.

My score crept higher and higher, and before I was halfway through the test I looked at the stress limits posted at the top of the paper.

I needed professional help several questions back, apparently.

But I was a happy person.

Sure, I had been through all those events in life, and events can cause stress, but how you deal with stress is very important.

A comedic movie several years back focused on a character who was always stressed about his job and life in general. He could never relax because he was constantly worried and anxious.

So, on the advice of a friend, he went to a group meeting led by a psychiatrist to talk about his feelings. While there, the doctor suggested hypnotizing him so that he would temporarily not care about all the things stressing him out. The doctor promised he’d remove the hypnotic suggestion after a few days.

The man agreed, only the doctor suffered a massive heart attack and died after hypnotizing him. Did the character help? No. He didn’t care.

Asked days later about his lackadaisical attitude at work, he replied, “It’s not that I’m lazy. I just don’t care.”

Now, maybe that’s the way some people deal with stress. They just don’t care.

Not me. I care a lot, often to the point that it causes me more stress than I had before. And I don’t like being stressed.

Plus, Christians are supposed to cast all our cares on God, because He cares for us. I’m not supposed to worry or be anxious.

So I work very hard at being content.

And at that point in my life, no matter the stress going on in my life, I was absolutely content. I knew I was right where God wanted me to be, doing just what I was supposed to be doing.

Why stress when you know everything is going to be fine?

So, how to “pass” that test? I went back and removed some of my life events from the page, so that I would fall within the “normal” range, and I had a face-to-face talk with the school pyschologist about it. I didn’t want to lie, after all.

Dr. Jeff said not to worry about it. He understood.

Stupid tests don’t always get it right.

Then before we could graduate, we had to take a similar test. According to this one, I didn’t like people and didn’t believe in God.

When I walked into Dr. Jeff’s office with the test in my hand, before I could say a word, he raised his hand and said, “Don’t worry about it. I understand.”

Stupid tests. 

  News editor Brett Campbell can be reached at 601-265-5307 or brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.