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Sometimes, all the thoughts that run through my mind before a social interaction leave me spinning.
What if I don’t know what to say? What’s the right amount to share about my life, without oversharing? How do I handle my toddler, who isn’t used to crowds?
I already experienced social stress before the pandemic, but these thoughts seem even louder after a year of Zoom-only interactions. If you’re feeling some “reentry anxiety,” you’re not alone; the American Psychological Association found that half of adults surveyed were uneasy about having more in-person social interactions when the pandemic ends.
We’re grateful that we can increasingly connect with our friends in-person, but the transition back to “normal” life will naturally bring some anxiety with it. Whether your social stress is pandemic-related or not, the Bible has some answers to help us better cope with it.
As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.Psalm 119:143 NLT
Psalm 119 helps us to see that the Word of God can help us to find joy even in times of pressure and stress. The decisions we make to read and listen to God’s Word can help us navigate stressful situations joyfully, as opposed to muscling through anxiety or just avoiding stress and pressure altogether.
Also, relationships are something God intends to be refreshing, not stressful:
Even after we came into the province of Macedonia, we found no relief. We were restless and exhausted; troubles met us at every turn. Outwardly I faced conflicts and inwardly emotional turmoil. 6 But God, who always knows how to encourage the depressed, encouraged us greatly by the arrival of Titus.2 Corinthians 7:5-6 TPT
2 Corinthians 7 tells us that one of the ways God encourages us when we’re down is by giving us the friends that we need in that moment to help cheer us up.
So how do we overcome the stress and anxiety we might have about social situations?
In the following passage, we will see how choosing spirituality helps us to de-stress our social life. We will then give 3 practical ways we can start choosing to be spiritual every day to help us grow and enjoy our relationships to the fullest.
How stress affects our social life
Spirituality is the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. Spirituality is about what you choose to focus on, and as we’ll see below, it has great ramifications on our stress level and our relationships:
Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home.  Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements. Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.  Jesus: Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details,  but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.Luke 10:38-42 Voice
This passage in Luke 10 paints a clear picture of two choices we can make in social situations. It contrasts two sisters, Martha and Mary, who both handled a social event very differently.
Martha was the one who invited Jesus and opened up her home to him. It’s clear that she wanted to connect with him. Nevertheless, her focus became less and less on the spiritual (her relationship with Jesus, and the spiritual things he taught) and more and more on the physical things she needed to accomplish.
In this instance, Martha chose anxiety instead of spirituality. I (Ade) have learned a great deal from this passage and identify with Martha on how my anxiety affects my relationships and social life. Here are four things that resulted from Martha’s choice:
- Harshness – (“interrupting Jesus”) When I’m anxious, I don’t have the room to listen to other’s point of view. I just want to get things done.
- Mistrust – (“Why don’t you care?”) Anxiety makes me doubt that God or others genuinely have my best interest in mind. I feel like I have to fend for myself.
- Blame – (“My sister is leaving me to do all the work.”) I often wrongfully attribute my anxiety to circumstances or people, thinking that if this or that wasn’t in my life, I would be less anxious. I have come to grips with the truth that I always find something else to be anxious about and blame if I’m not dealing with the real root of my anxiety.
- Control – (“Tell her to get over here and help me.”) When I’m anxious, I get bossy and controlling instead of considering the most relational approach to take.
I definitely don’t want to treat people around me this way, and luckily this passage also gives me a way out of my stress. I can choose to focus on the spiritual instead of the physical.
Mary chose a more spiritual and relational approach. She came and sat down at Jesus’ feet.
One could argue that it would have been easier for Mary to do this because she had less responsibility. After all, it was Martha’s house, she was the one who felt the weight of things turning out for the best, and she was the one that had to make sure all the details were taken care of.
While this is true, Jesus makes it clear that Mary’s focus was more important than Martha’s. Years ago, I was helping to host a large event and I was responsible for several aspects of it. Throughout the event, I saw friends who wanted to say hi and chat, but I was so anxious about all the details I had to take care of that I told them I was too busy.
Looking back at that time, I realized that I missed the entire point of the event, which was to connect relationally with friends. The details of the event came and went; in the long run, it didn’t really matter how perfectly everything was executed. What mattered more was that I missed an opportunity to get closer to friends.
Spirituality helps us to prioritize, so that we focus on what matters most. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his words without being distracted by all the noise around her. And it seems as a result this social event was a lot less stressful to her than it was to Martha.
How can we put this to practice in our day-to-day lives? We came up with three simple things we can choose to do daily to be spiritual and de-stress our social life.
In social situations, we usually want to put our best foot forward. Social media is a good example of this – it’s easy to only want the “good parts” of our lives to show. This might lead us to hide parts of ourselves that we feel embarrassed about, guilty about, or that we think will make us look weak.
But what we don’t always understand is that our pretending ends up making us feel edgy and anxious.
 The wicked are edgy with guilt, ready to run off even when no one’s after them; Honest people are relaxed and confident, bold as lions.Proverbs 28:1 MSG
Now, it’s important to note that this verse uses the term “wicked,” and to some this might seem harsh. But the Bible uses this word differently than we do. In the Scriptures, the word “wicked” is used to describe things that are morally wrong, like being too proud to seek God (Psalm 10:4).
So don’t get caught up in whether or not you’re “wicked.” Just notice what the scripture says about being relaxed and being edgy. According to this scripture, honest people are relaxed and confident.
A spiritual way to handle our guilt, mistakes, and weaknesses is to be honest about them. When we choose not to be honest about who we are, we will end up feeling edgy. Some of our guilt might even be false guilt, meaning we feel guilty about something we shouldn’t feel guilty about. That’s one of the reasons honesty is important; if we hold our guilt inside, we never find the relief we’re looking for.
In fact, we will start thinking people are after us, even when they’re not. We might start to think people are mad at us, accusing us, or judging us when they’re not.
On the flip side, honesty literally de-stresses us. Choosing to be honest with God brings us closer to him, unburdens us, and makes us feel protected (Psalm 32:5-7 NLT). When we are ourselves with God, we will feel confident to be ourselves with other people too because we know God accepts us.
- How do I pretend or try to put my best foot forward when I’m in a crowd or group of friends?
- How might my edginess and anxiety be related to not being myself?
- What do I need to be honest with God about when it comes to my guilt or my insecurities?
- Choose to be honest with God about the things that you feel guilty about and then talk to a friend about those same things.
Be an original
Comparing ourselves with other people can be a big source of social stress. As we compare, we start focusing on all our flaws and weaknesses and leave feeling more insecure and anxious than when we first arrived.
One of the ways we can find relief from this stress is by getting clarity from God that we are loved and accepted for who we are.
[25-26] Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.Galatians 5:25-26 MSG
This scripture talks about how we are an original, we aren’t supposed to be like someone else. That doesn’t mean we can’t be influenceable or admire others, it just means that we let God define our strengths and weaknesses instead of the society around us.
Comparing ourselves to other people means we constantly measure whether another person is better or worse than us. We might find momentary happiness when we feel like we are better, but then we lose that happiness when we inevitably find someone that we think is more attractive or more talented than we are.
This whole process leaves us stressed out because it never gives us the confidence and encouragement we need.
God wants us to know that he accepts us and sees us as special. He created us to be exactly who we are and doesn’t compare us to other people. He wants us to use our strengths and weaknesses to grow our lives and to help others.
- How do you compare ourselves to others?
- What talents, strengths or even weaknesses did God give you to help others?
When I’m around people it can be easy for me (Cristina) to think more about myself than those that are around me. I can get caught up thinking more about how I am being perceived than what the other person is saying.
Self-focus and stress go hand-in-hand for me. When I’m insecure, I focus a lot on myself, and then in turn I get more insecure.
Read more: Don’t Stress the Mess
Finding encouragement and comfort in my friendship with God helps relieve my insecurities so that I can be considerate of others in conversations instead of self-focused.
Think about what we have in Christ: the encouragement he has brought us, the comfort of his love, our sharing in his Spirit, and the mercy and kindness he has shown us. If you enjoy these blessings, 2 then do what will make my joy complete: Agree with each other, and show your love for each other.
Be united in your goals and in the way you think. 3 In whatever you do, don’t let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble, and honor others more than yourselves. 4 Don’t be interested only in your own life, but care about the lives of others too.Philippians 2:1-4 ERV
If we are getting the comfort and encouragement we need from God, then we will have the room in our hearts and lives to love others. Love makes us consider others.
What does considering others look like according to Philippians 2?
- Agree with each other – don’t just push your opinion
- Show love – serve, encourage, do good for others
- Be united – work together
- Honor others – respect others
- Interested in others – care for others’ lives
Caring for others de-stresses our social life because it takes the focus off ourselves and brings refreshment:
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.Proverbs 11:25 NIV
When we show kindness to others, we will feel re-energized and strengthened. There have been times I felt anxious and down, and then I met up with some friends or talked to them over zoom and ended up sharing scriptures and helping them by sharing my own weaknesses. I would leave the times feeling happy and more positive because I was reminded that God can use me to help others.
- How much do you think about others when you’re around them?
- How can you grow in considering others?
- Who needs your help and care?
These choices to focus on the spiritual will relieve some of the stress we feel in our social le. As we choose to be real about who we are, embrace our originality, and consider others more than ourselves, we’ll find more joy in connecting and reconnecting with people around us.