STRESS is an acronym for Stubbornly Toils Resisting Every Single Sanctification. (I made that up!)
We succumb to it frequently because we are not perfect. And the world pushes and pushes, until we feel the pressure, the allure of being "of the world". Does it make us holier to stress? Of course not. So, why do we allow ourselves to do it? This is both the question to answer, and the source of the problem.
Why do we allow OURSELVES to do it? Dom Lorenzo Scupoli offers this insight taken from his book, The Spiritual Combat:
Your heart was created by God for this end alone: to be love and possessed by Him. And with this love, you can make it do whatever you wish, and everything, however difficult it might be, will in this manner become easy to you. Therefore, you must in the first place gain a fixed and established intention in your heart, so that outward actions may flow from inward...you will gain vanity and the wind of vainglory, all all your labor will be lost, unless these outward exercises are animated and guided by the right inward disposition.
The life of man is nothing else but a warfare and a continual temptation; and in consequence of this warfare, you must live in a state of watchfulness and ever keep a guard over your heart, so that it may continue in peace and quietness. And if you should feel the movement of some sensual disturbance within you, you must be careful to quiet it instantly, still your heart and not permitting it to turn aside or wander after any of these things. (p. 186-7)
The reason we allow ourselves to stress is because we have not established the right relationship with God; the disturbances come from outward action without interior recollection or quietness. We have either neglected or denied the call of God to be the King of our hearts. For this we were created.
What then is impact of STRESS? Can we make those times of trial and tribulation go away? No, we can't. The world, although created good by God, is inhabited by fallen man. We must constantly, as Scupoli says, keep guard over our hearts. The temptations to sin are great; the stress that comes from hectic lifestyles, life choices, obligations, distractions, illness, etc. bear down heavily on us each day. But, we must not fall prey to these things. Scuopli continues:
Sometimes you might fall into some sin or negligence in word or deed, such as disturbing yourself at anything which happens to you, or murmuring, or listening to murmuring, or falling into some dispute, irritation, curiosity, or suspicion of others, or into any other fault, whether it be one or many falls. In such cases, you ought not to be disturbed or disheartened or saddened at the thought of what has happened, nor be confounded within yourself, at one time, believing that you will never be free from such infirmities, at another, that your faults and irresolution are the cause of them, or again, imagining that you are not walking in the spirit and the way of the Lord, with a thousand other fears, pressing down your should at every step with discontent and cowardice...All this comes from not knowing your own natural weakness and the way the soul should bear itself toward God. For after having fallen into all the faults we have enumerated, or into any others, we may more easily approach God by a humble and loving conversion, than by the spirit of grief and discontent at the fault itself... (p. 215-6)
It is critical that we do not become scrupulous. The Lord wants us to know ourselves and our weaknesses, but not to dwell on them to the extent that they cause us to brood over them. If a situation causes us pain or stress or anxiety, we must become humble and seek solace in the grace of God. It is when we try to control all of our circumstances that they become too much for us to bear.
What can be done then to lift us out from under the heavy yoke of STRESS? Is there a solution to the constant strain of anxiety that can plague us in this world, that need to control? Of course there is a solution. Scupoli offers a rule:
Take this rule, whenever you fall into a fault, be it great or small, even though you may have committed the same four thousand times in a day, and always voluntarily and with advertency: never all yourself to fall into a state of morose bitterness, and do not be disquieted, nor waste your time by scrutinizing yourself. But at once acknolege what you have done, and, humbly regarding your own weakness, turn lovingly to your God, and say to Him with your lips, or with your mind only, "Lord, I have done this, being what I am, and nothing else could be expected from me, save only these and similar faults, and I would not have stopped where I did, had not Thy goodness lifted me up and continued with me I give Thee thanks for that from which Thou hast preserved me, and I grieve over that which I have done through not corresponding with Thy grace. Pardon me, and give me grace that I may never offend Thee anymore, and may nothing ever separate me from Thee, whom I desire ever to serve and to obey."...in the spirit of faith and repose, continue your exercises, as if you had not fallen at all.
If those who are of an anxious and restless temperament would give heed to what has been here said, they would discover how great is their blindness in thus losing time, to their own great hurt. And this warning should be carefully noted, for it is one of the keys that the soul has for unlocking great spiritual treasures, and thereby for becoming rich in a short time. (p. 218-9)
What a gift Scupoli reminds us of here. While the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available for us to receive absolution and forgiveness, it is not possible to receive the sacrament in every instance that we fall. Nor, should be so scrupulous to seek it out at every instance, either. But, in the moment, interiorly, we can beg the forgiveness of God, recognize our weakness and make a resolution to, with His grace, avoid the failing that leads to stress, anxiety or despair again. It is a matter of interior self-knowledge, humility and a sincere trust in God's wisdom, love and mercy.
It takes discipline to gain interior peace and freedom from those things that cause us stress. But, rest assured that if you don't stress over it, the Lord will provide you with the interior peace you desire.