Why Am I So Stressed? (Stress & Distress): Part 1 of 4

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by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern

“I’m stressed out!”

A friend recently said this shortly after we sat down over a cup of coffee. His exclamation is a major theme in our culture right now. Distress. We face pandemics, racial tensions, political divisions on a national and even global scale. On a personal level, many of us face job uncertainty, relational tension, family instability, and the loss of needed social support from family, friends, church, and other social circles. Not to mention incessant clamoring from a 24/7 cycle of (generally bad) news and social media feeds demanding our attention. Add in pervasive advertising using advanced neuroscience to bypass our conscious defenses to manipulate our attention and behavior…no wonder we’re stressed out!

What Causes Stress and Distress?

In this 4-part series, I want to help you know more about what causes stress and distress. I also want to help you find rest in a stressful world. My basic premise is that you as a human being were designed for relationships in three dimensions – with yourself, with God, and with other people. You experience emotional distress when your relationships are disrupted in one or more of these dimensions. Conversely, you can experience rest, peace, and security by reconnecting relationally in each of these dimensions.

Distress: Rooted in Relationships

Maybe you are surprised that I link distress exclusively to relationships. At first glance, you may see your stress as caused by something like work pressure, money pressure, or other life demands. But think about it: why do you work so hard? What are the reasons you need more money? What happens when you think of working less or having less money? When you pay attention to the fears and compulsions that drive your distress I believe you’ll see they are ultimately relational in nature.

What does the Bible tell us about relationships?

For those who are Christians and look at life through the lens of the Bible, this 3-fold understanding of relationships is found in Jesus’ answer to what’s most important in life:

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT).

According to Jesus, our relational engagement with God is fundamental to what it means to be human. When you have peace with God, you have peace with yourself. When you are at peace with yourself, you can experience peace with others. 

An exercise in connecting distress and relationships…

Here’s an exercise that will help you see this connection between distress and relationships in your life. Pause and relax for a moment. Maybe close your eyes and take a couple of slow, deep breaths. Picture yourself in a normal setting where you sometimes experience distress (work, home, social engagement, etc.). Now, imagine you feel 100% confident in yourself and your abilities in that situation. You have absolutely no doubt, confusion, or uncertainty. While holding onto that confidence, imagine a few trusted friends are with you in that situation. You feel 100% comfortable and secure in your relationship with them. No blame, fear, competing for attention, or concern for status. Lastly, imagine you feel 100% certain in the existence and presence of a good God who knows you and loves you. He has your every need covered and his love for you is lavish. After a few moments of imagining this, how much stress do you feel? 

Did that cause you distress?

Did you have trouble completing the exercise? Maybe you had trouble imagining yourself at peace in one or more relational directions. That’s okay. The unwelcome thoughts and emotions that arise while attempting the exercise point to the relational disruptions that currently provoke distress in your life. That knowledge can be helpful in knowing where to start as you seek to “turn the volume down” on your distress.

Learn More About Stress & Distress

In this post, I merely wish to provoke your thinking and invite you to see your experience of distress through a relational lens. In the subsequent posts, I will focus on steps you can take to begin finding peace in each relational dimension. You can also learn more in the following posts in our 4-part series on stress and distress:

  1. Why Am I So Stressed?
  2. The Internal Dynamics of Stress
  3. Distress & Worship
  4. Distress & Belonging


Our Clackamas and Hillsboro-based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your relationships can thrive again. Stress counseling and anxiety treatment can help. Our therapists are here to help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start online Christian counseling in Oregon, follow these simple steps:

  1. Learn about our therapy team in Hillsboro and our caring counselors in Clackamas
  2. Schedule an appointment with your preferred therapist, or contact us with questions
  3. Feel more connected to the important people in your life


If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, or Hillsboro, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinicsChristian counseling is the cornerstone of our approach to therapy. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatmentanxiety therapytrauma therapy and PTSD treatmentrelationship issuesmarriage problems, and postpartum counseling. No matter where you are in the state, we can provide the support you need with online therapy in Oregon. Once you’re ready to start, we’re ready to meet you. Let’s connect!

Headshot of Shane Fookes, Christian counselor in Clackamas, OR who offers counseling in Clackmas, OR or online therapy in Oregon

About the Author

Shane Fookes is a graduate of Western Seminary’s Counseling program and a Licensed Professional Counseling Intern. He was previously a pastor and is still involved in churches, and writes about marriage and relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and spiritual development.

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