To stress or to rest?
It is at this time of the year when life becomes extremely stressful. There is an enormous pressure to fit culturally, socially and religiously into the demands of the festive period. It is essential to organise exceptionally well the times of Christmas celebrations. Special efforts are to be made to accommodate all the members of the family and please them all. Suitable gifts are to be provided to all which requires special selective purchases, hence the overload of advertisements which emphasise the right purchases for the right people.
Of course, as the resources are limited, bargains are to be found and considering the criteria, this is not an easy process. The credit card is eventually exhausted and the debt is increased (one in six people in the UK entered into debt in 2016 to manage Christmas shopping; uSwitch, 2016). These extra calories gained due to overconsumption of festive goodies are to be burned (19.5 million stone was added to the bodyweight of the UK population in December 2016; British Heart Foundation, 2016). Furthermore, all religious traditions and ceremonies are to be properly fulfilled (there is over 89% increase from the Sunday service to the Christmas services attendance in the Church of England; Bingham, 2016).
These are some of the pressures during this season. The stress has increased enormously and the demands keep coming. The adrenalin is pumping through our system as we constantly operate on fight, flight or freeze mode during this time of stress, waking up in the night to keep planning, calculating and preparing. It is not only our digestive system which is overloaded but our psychological balance is completely wiped out. The season of Christmas has turned into an overwhelming and stressful experience. However, the very purpose of Christmas is to provide rest which is spiritual in nature and has clear psychological characteristics.
The rest of the Christmas nature
Christmas is a spiritual event with firm historical foundations in the birth, life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The spiritual nature of the event comes from the birth of the promised Messiah providing the way of reconciliation between God and men.
The coming of Jesus is to bring rest to all the people from their attempts to reach God through their own efforts and works. He came to provide the way to God, for entering into God’s rest through faith in him. “For all who have entered into God's rest have rested from their labours, just as God did after creating the world” (Hebrews 4:10, NLT). Hence it is the time to enter this rest. “So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today” (Hebrews 4:7a, NLT).
This rest is spiritually defined by faith in Jesus and leads to restoration from stress, worries, anxieties and depressions. The rest is established by the relationship with God which is based on unconditional love, forgiveness and acceptance.
“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT).
The importance of healthy spirituality for treatment
Healthy spiritually is defined as a personal relationship with God based on faith and repentance by man and unconditional love, forgiveness and acceptance by God is crucial for psychological wellbeing. Spirituality plays a significant role in positive psychology (Peterson and Seligman, 2004). Studies provide evidence of the importance of spirituality for recovery and wellbeing (Pargament, 2009).
When spirituality is involved in therapy there is an excellent track record of success in the light of 12 step facilitation. Hence it is important to consider spirituality as part of the holistic approach to treatment (Stanard, Sandhu and Painter, 2000). The therapeutic modalities attempt to deal holistically with the individual looking into the biological, psychological and social dimensions of the treatment in order to address all relevant clients’ needs. Adding spirituality to these dimensions will provide a truly holistic approach. One of the significant relationships which clarify psychological health is between conscience and spirituality.
Conscience therapy as a modality for restoring internal rest
Stress may be caused by a burdened conscience which leads to unmanageable thoughts and emotions of guilt and shame. Healthy spirituality empowers conscience and provides the resources for nurturing a functional conscience. The latter might be defined as a personal moral framework for balanced cognitive, emotional and behavioural life management. Spiritually empowered conscience is functional and leads to effective decision-making, crisis management, goal achievements and continuous psychological wellbeing.
Research conducted in the last several years of the role of conscience in addictions provides evidence of the importance of spiritually empowered conscience in successful recovery (the first part is already published, Zhekov, Y. K. , Conscience in recovery from alcohol addiction. OR: Resource Publications). Hence I established a modality called “conscience therapy” which deals with the conscience and its relationships with cognition, emotions, behaviours and spirituality. Conscience therapy is one of the therapeutic ways to explore healthy spirituality and achieve internal rest.
The rest during Christmas festivities
The Christmas season is upon us and we can approach it in two ways. We may allow the stress factors derived from the social, cultural and religious demands to burden and overpower us. The alternative way is to explore healthy spirituality considering the Christmas narrative summarised in the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ coming for reconciliation with God. The latter approach will lead us to enter God’s rest which will help us to restore our internal peace, revive our conscience and provide us with consistent psychological wellbeing.
- Bingham, J. (28 October 2016). British families only attend church at Christmas, new figures suggest. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/27/british-families-only-attend-church-at-christmas-new-figures-sug/
- British Heart Foundation, (2016). New statistics reveal nations overindulgence over Christmas. Retrieved from https://www.bhf.org.uk/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2016/december/new-statistics-reveal-nations-level-of-inactivity-and-overindulgence-over-christmas
- Holy Bible, New Living Translation, NLT, (2004). Second Edition. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers. Bible Works for Windows version 7.
- Pargament, K. I. (2009). Spirituality. In S. J. Lopez, (Ed.). The encyclopedia of positive psychology (pp.928-932). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
- Peterson, C. and Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Stanard, R. P., Sandhu, D. S. and Painter, L. C. (2000). Assessment of spirituality in counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development 78, 204-210.
- uSwitch (2016). Christmas debt hangover looming for nine out of ten Brits. Retrieved from https://www.uswitch.com/media-centre/2016/12/christmas-debt-hangover-looming-for-nine-out-of-ten-brits/
- Zhekov, Y. K. . Conscience in recovery from alcohol addiction. OR: Resource Publications.
This article was written by counsellor, Dr Yordan Zhekov.
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