Mind Over Fatter: How I Handled My Stress

I can remember when the expression lines in my forehead began to solidify into wrinkles (or as I call them, creases of wisdom). Whatever you want to call them, they were there, and they were there to stay. That was also about the time I had my first couple of gray hairs pop up on the back of my head. My girlfriend was nice enough to pluck out a couple of them (without warning, I might add) to demonstrate the truth of her discovery. Why had both of these things happened? And why at the same time?

On a related note, I’m considering growing a beard.

Let’s put some of this into context. After years of being in school and basically holding low stress/minimum wage jobs, I finally landed my first “real” job as a math teacher at the age of 26. Suddenly, I was always on; I had 100 students asking me to make decisions left and right, students who needed me to be an authority figure, father figure, mentor, educator, and entertainer all at the same time, and I really didn’t feel qualified at first. I was a little overwhelmed and definitely stressed out. On top of that, I also had a fair bit of credit card debt because I hadn’t yet grown in wisdom with my finances (still haven’t…I hear that comes later).

Help me Dave Ramsey, you’re my only hope.

Looking back, I can see how profoundly my thoughts affected my stress level. My dominant thought at the time was that I had to do everything perfectly and “right now.” Every lesson plan, every lecture, every interaction with my students. My way of thinking was making a tough job that much more stressful–my inner perfectionist was dumping gasoline on an already crackling fire.

Being Christian, I looked to the Bible for some answers, and I found this little gem that sounded like God had just added it into the Bible two seconds before I opened it:  “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30). My bones weren’t rotting, but I definitely didn’t have a tranquil mind. I could tell that my line of thinking was only going to run me into the ground, and I could tell this was happening already, because at the ripe old age of 26 I was coming home from work, taking out my teeth, and promptly taking a 3 hour nap.

So tired…but so delicious.

It can be said that your skin, your weight, and your muscle tone are simply an expression of your dominant thoughts. What you think on the inside shows up on the outside. So on days where I thought I was not cut out to be a teacher, I felt lethargic, slow-to-act, and even frustrated with my students. When I arrived home after school, I certainly did not want to exercise. In the process of all of that, I put on some weight. My body was showing which thoughts were dominating my mind.

It took some real will-power to move the process back in a positive direction. I had to force myself to go for a jog after school rather than concede to the seduction of a nap. However, the more I chose this course of action, slowly but surely, something incredible happened:  by simply choosing to act against my dominant thoughts, my thinking itself began to change. And with that change of thought, my weight started to change too. I’ve lost about 10 pounds since then, and an inch or two around the waist. Yes, exercise has helped. So has a change in diet. But it was the realization that my quality of life is governed by my thoughts that propelled me in the right direction.

Getting rid of the cheeseburger bed helped also.

Jesus said that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). If He said this about our words, what about our actions? If actions speak louder than words, how much more do our actions flow from the fullness of our heart? So we have to ask, what is on our heart? What is on our minds? If we can start to locate our dominant thoughts and track them, we can start to decide whether we should really be thinking that way. And when we start to question, we can start to act and think differently, and our body will begin to reveal outwardly the inward change in our minds.

As for the gray hair, it hasn’t gone away, but I found a verse for that too: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).  I just hope my students see my premature “crown” the same way.