Last Tuesday was a stressful day. It wasn’t supposed to be because I was on vacation. I was driving to a national park to do some hiking with my partner, Lynn. What could be stressful about that, right? I was going to one of my favorite places, to do one of my favorite activities, with my favorite person in the world.
Except I didn’t sleep well the night before, we got a late start, traffic was terrible, and the drive turned out to be 3 hours instead of 1:15 like Google Maps promised. In an attempt to keep our day on schedule, we skipped lunch and kept driving. The stress of feeling late and dealing with heavy traffic, compounded by being tired and hungry, were not a good combination for me.
Stress has a way of bringing out the worst in us.
Stress has a way of bringing out the worst in us. Mix in factors that lower our resistance, like being tired, hungry, or both, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I was irritable. Lynn didn’t like my foul mood and who could blame her? I didn’t like me in that moment either.
The year I battered my (now ex) wife was a very stressful time in my life. We had three teenagers in the house and one in college. Work was not going well as I had a new boss and it looked like my job was going to be eliminated. Our marriage was on the rocks. That said, my stress was NOT an excuse for me to strike her. Stress can never be an excuse for violence. My actions and then my arrest, of course, just added to my stress.
Stress can never be an excuse for violence.
The reason is, we will ALWAYS have stress in our lives: sometimes more, sometimes less, but it never goes to zero until we die. Does stress make people like me who are prone to becoming violent, more likely to be violent? Without a doubt.
Stress tests us all, violent and non-violent alike. It often brings out our worst. Everyone has stress in their lives; most do not strike someone else as a result. Our job is to do whatever we have to do to manage our reactions, regardless of the stress we’re under. Our worst can be “irritable,” but it can never be violent.
Our job is to manage our reactions, regardless of the stress we’re under.
Note I said manage reactions, not manage stress. Of course reducing stress is always a good idea. It provides benefits to both our health and quality of life. For the person who is at the beginning of his or her journey from violent to non-violent, lowering stress levels takes a little of the pressure off while they practice emotional control techniques, discovers the root causes of their reactions, and learns new ways of responding.
Just paying attention to reducing or eliminating stress, however, would be dangerous because there is only so many of the stressful circumstances we can control. Let me say it again, our job is to be capable of responding in a non-violent way regardless of the level of stress. Stress is a compounding factor but not the cause of domestic violence. Focus on gaining control over your reactions, not on stress reduction.
One great benefit of my faith is it reduces stress. Trusting that God, the all-powerful creator of the universe, has me covered helps a lot. One of the promises we get as believers is that he causes all things to work together for our good because we have a relationship with him. Does that mean everything will go well for you or me? No. It does mean that it will turn out ok in the end. It’s like watching a recording of your favorite team’s championship game. Watching the opponent score is much less stressful when you know your team will eventually win.