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Stress Out Of Balance. An Interfaith Law Enforcement Chaplain Speaks

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Warren Hays is the Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Service in Sonoma County.  I asked him recently to tell me what he had learned about stress as a result of being a chaplain and through his life ministery in general.  Here in his words is a powerful reframe of the way stress is thought about and practical advice for how to reduce stress in life in general. 


When you hear the word, “stress,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? For many it triggers a negative response. Stress is something bad, to be avoided, unpleasant, an unfortunate dynamic of life. Stress is something that causes pain, discomfort and avoidance. I would like to propose a little different slant on stress if I may. Stress, as defined by Webster includes these meanings: “A force or system of forces producing a strain, or a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain.” Or this; “Inordinate fear or pain may interfere with the normal physiological, emotional strain or tension.” Remember, fear and pain as well as stress do not harm us. Actually the opposite is true as they keep us alive and well. It is the dynamic of checks and balances that constitutes what it means to be a healthy human being.

Stress got me out of bed this morning. Stress draws me to my wife for conversation, affection and connection. Stress causes me to water my plants and my vegetable garden. Stress will help me accomplish all I have to do today and to do a good job. Our physical bodies, minds and spirits or souls if you will, continually exert a proper degree of stress on specific parts of our being that need stimulation and nurturing. Let me explain! If one has not eaten for several hours the body will exert a mildly stressful feeling which we may call hunger pangs. Sexual urges are produced by desire as the natural functions of the body send signals of stress to the mind that a need is there. One might apply this dynamic of stress to all functions of human life which include desire and need, especially those essential for good health. Ever feel stress when taking a long trip and as you are in dire need of finding a rest room? While it feels like a negative experience it is actually the body expressing the need for relief and quick relief at that! It’s a good thing, right? The relief is almost worth the pain!

When seeing stress as a positive dynamic of life that actually is very necessary for our survival, stress actually becomes our friend and we may appreciate and understand it in new ways. When stress moves outside the needed checks and balances of our normal healthy zone, we become over-stressed and it can become our enemy just like fear or pain. Circumstances can cause this as well as disease, depression and other maladies of our existence. Too much of anything including good things can hurt us if not held within the proper tension of body, mind and spirit. Practices such as meditation, prayer, contemplation can assist us in dealing with stress out of balance. Always remember, it is not the circumstance that causes unhealthy stress, it is our response to it.

For me, the greatest stress regulator is gratitude. It is also a good remedy for worry which causes negative stress. I have learned how to be thankful even in the most difficult situations. I actually find a quiet place and speak verbally all I am grateful for, even for the difficulties in life as they help me grow and be all that I can be. I see gratitude as a dynamic that keeps the proper tension between unhealthy stress and normal stress that is so conducive to healthy living.


The Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Service in Sonoma County is incorporated in California as a non-constituent, non-profit organization. We are also a non-profit 501c3 organization with the IRS, Federal ID number 68-0424491.

Our mission is to respond to requests from law enforcement and provide immediate emotional support and follow up care to them and to the members of our community who have suffered tragedy and loss. We are an interfaith community of compassionate volunteers without religious, political, or legal agendas.

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