Learn how to understand and use stress for positive change. With up-to-date analysis, real-life examples and spiritual practices, this book explores the effects of stress and ways to honor its symptoms. Rather than being limited by a perspective of distress, you can use stress as a catalyst for growth in all areas of life.
George R. Faller, MS, LMFT, and The Rev. Dr. Heather Wright
6 x 9, 176 pp | 978-1-59473-614-8
Stress is a part of modern life—discover how to use it to grow spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.
“Stress takes life and gives life.... It can propel us forward into new opportunities but can also hold us back in fear and exhaustion. It is our mission to help you learn how to adopt [new] strategies and turn stress into a positive force in your life.”
—from the Introduction
Stress can limit our perspective, leaving us feeling trapped and out of control. But stress can also be a force for good: It is our challenges that most compel us to reach out for relationship. And our proudest moments come after overcoming obstacles we thought were insurmountable.
Based on personal experience and their work as therapists, and drawing on decades of psychological research, George R. Faller, MS, LMFT, and The Rev. Dr. Heather Wright have come to see that stress can be healthy and positive. They equip us with the skills and the knowledge we need to reframe our thinking about stress, understand and embrace our darker emotions, and become stronger through difficulty.
“A thoughtful, accessible and readable guide.... I consider this a valuable resource both personally and professionally. Extremely readable, informative and helpful.”
—Dr. Dale Atkins, psychologist; coauthor, Sanity Savers: Tips for Women to Live a Balanced Life
“A must-read for anyone who feels overwhelmed by stress.... Empowers readers to both reframe and ‘befriend’ stress.... A go-to guide for fostering hope and healing in a stressed-out world.”
—Rev. Dr. Andrea Mueller, canon for prayer and healing ministries, Anglican Diocese in New England
“Shows us there is more than one way, and a better way, to win the battle with stress. Equips us with the tools to change defeat into victory. A great resource for everyone.”
—Admiral Vern Clark, U.S. Navy (retired); former chief of Navy operations
“Personally inspiring and deeply insightful, [will] touch your heart and guide your steps toward embracing opportunities for courageous growth and freedom.... Compelling personal examples and psychological insight.”
—James L. Furrow, PhD, Evelyn and Frank Freed Professor of Marital and Family Therapy, Fuller Theological Seminary
“I didn’t know reading a book on stress could be so much fun and so informative.... A totally fresh approach for turning distress into life-giving connection.”
—Dr. Sue Johnson, psychologist; researcher; best-selling author, Hold Me Tight and Love Sense
“With creativity and compassion ... show[s] us how to embrace the opportunity that stress provides for transformation and spiritual renewal.”
—Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation
“Helpful illustrations, theory and practical stories offer a hopeful and life-giving understanding of stress.... I will recommend this book to many of my parishioners.”
—Rev. Anita L. Bradshaw, PhD, author, Change and Conflict in Your Congregation (Even If You Hate Both)
“A new voice and a fresh perspective on our most challenging moments. Read it with care and share it often; we would all do well to reconsider our response to adversity.”
—Elana Katz, LCSW, senior faculty, Ackerman Institute for the Family
“A thoughtful and compassionate book, filled with wisdom and kindness.”
—John Eldredge, author, Wild at Heart
“For stress to be transformative and not traumatic, we need to connect deeply with another person within a relationship. George Faller and Heather Wright give us a lovely guide for discovering and creating this reality.”
—Dan Hughes, PhD, psychologist, founder of DDP attachment-focused family therapy
“George Faller and Heather Wright’s wise counsel offers a whole new path to hope and healing for readers courageous enough to receive the gift of sacred stress.”
—Ian Morgan Cron, author, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale
“Use[s] vivid stories to advocate a transformative and very helpful paradigm shift.... Many readers living fast-paced, pressured days will greatly benefit from their ideas, as I did.”
—Rev. Lynne M. Baab, PhD, author, Sabbath Keeping and The Power of Listening
“A great book for stressful times. Written from the author’s heart and the heart of God.”
—Kenny Sanderfer, LMFT, certified EFT therapist, supervisor and trainer
“Stress, motivating and challenging, is simply part of our lives. These two colleagues and authors approach its dynamics with great experience, sensitivity and honesty.”
—Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler, rector, Christ Church Greenwich
“A gift of a book—with solid science to back it up, Sacred Stress will help you, uplift you, educate you and engage you.... You will walk away with a lot of new tools for relieving stress in your life.”
—Diana Fosha, PhD, director and founder, AEDP Institute; developer of AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy)
“Uplifting and evocative.”
—Jim Sharon, EdD, coauthor, Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationship
“Highly recommend[ed].... Will help transform stress in your life from a limiting to an enabling force.”
—Michael Lee Stallard, author, Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work
“A highly effective roadmap.... A wonderful resource.”
—Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz, coauthor, Encyclopedia of Judaism; cofounder, Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship
“Inspiring ... deep wisdom about adversity and resilience.”
—Froma Walsh, PhD, Firestone Professor Emerita, University of Chicago; author, Strengthening Family Resilience
“[An] indispensable, compassionate and accessible handbook ... for every minister and caregiver.”
—Rev. Drew Williams, senior pastor, Trinity Church Greenwich
“Poignant vignettes, scattered with pearls of wisdom.... Take[s] us on a journey of transformation and growth.”
—Richard Ager, PhD, dean, Tulane School of Social Work
A Supplement to Sacred Stress: A Radically Different Approach to Using Life’s Challenges for Positive Change
What was the experience of co-authoring like?
George Faller: We tried to live the words that we were writing. We emphasized the relational aspects of the stress of writing and how opening a space for dialogue allows you to become clearer. The book became much richer and deeper through our conversations and new experiences.
Heather Wright: Working through the writing process together took the book to a deeper level than either of us could have gotten to alone. One author friend told me, “The fact that you are still speaking to each other is evidence that you did a good job with the main topic of Sacred Stress.”
GF: It delivers a richer variety for readers since there are different voices and styles.
HW: With so many edits, I think it ended up being one voice. It was hard for me to tell where each of our words fit in it, after so much back and forth as we fine-tuned every paragraph and sentence.
What is it you hope readers take away from the book?
GF: I would hope readers find more grace, patience and even excitement for the redemptive power of stress. Readers can expand their framework to see stress not as something bad to endure, but actually as something necessary that helps us grow.
HW: Grace is something that we need to offer to ourselves before we can extend it to others. Rather than just run away or numb ourselves from the struggles we have to face in life, we should recognize there are opportunities in our challenges.
GF: We hope readers will take away the two strategies we highlighted: reframing how you think about stress, and expanding and using it to embrace your emotions as a doorway to vulnerability.
HW: Our spirituality is a resource to inspire us, to make changes and to invite healthy ways of coping with the stressors life brings.
GF: Spirituality strengthens our message because it is saying the same thing as our experience and research. The spirituality and science of coping with stress are converging.
How has writing this book and spending time on this topic changed your own life experience?
GF: We developed our ideas and strategies through personal struggles and clinical experience. But really focusing on the topic for an extended period of time has allowed me to be more patient and less reactive when I feel my stress level rising. I am looking for opportunities to practice these redemptive moments, rather than automatically leaning towards exhaustion and frustration.
HW: Diving more deeply into these principles and challenging each other to “live”—not just “preach” about—this topic allowed me to become more honest about what I am feeling, to embrace whatever that emotion might be, and to listen for the content of what it’s telling me, rather than fighting or denying it. It has equipped and enabled me to do a better job of discovering the hidden opportunity in the stressful circumstance. It has helped me to be more honest and real with others in a way that has brought us closer.
GF: We are looking to not only survive, but also thrive with stress.
HW: In both our lives Sacred Stress’s message has rung true. When dealing with my spouse’s stroke during the writing of this book, I had to personally explore whether what we were writing could really stand up to a tremendous life stressor. I discovered our suggestions were worthy of the task. Our findings gave me the great support and resources I needed to respond differently to major stress than I had in the past.
Is there a need to adjust our thinking on stress in the political sphere?
GF: All we have to do is to look at our politics to see how unchecked stress can lead to lots of negativity. If our candidates would reframe their thinking about stress and see it as an opportunity for growth—and see the benefits of people having different opinions—you can imagine how much more civility and connection there could be.
HW: Our suggestions can increase tolerance by strengthening our ability to respect others that have different opinions than we do and to have a dialogue to find a better solution together than we could have done on our own.
GF: If there ever has been a time when ideologies are becoming more polarized, it is now. However, we see the reasons for two different truths, and our book’s strategy for coping with stress in constructive ways gives you a bridge to be able to understand and hold both sides of an argument.
How would you apply lessons learned from traumatic events, like 9/11 or war, to future events?
GF: In the immediacy of the moment, when the world seems to shrink—when stress is most intense—that’s when we need to remember a healthy perspective on stress.
HW: … and how much we need each other.
GF: There is potential in tragedy, so we need to see it differently. If we listen to it and approach it differently, vulnerability is an opportunity to strengthen connections. When experiencing tragedy, we don’t want to hear that something good is going to come from what is happening. However, that doesn’t mean that a part of us doesn’t recognize this truth. When the dust settles there will be plenty of opportunities to use the circumstances for growth, to appreciate your relationships in a deeper way, and to discover that good can come from bad circumstances in our lives.
HW: So often trauma isolates us not only from each other, but also from ourselves. We lose the ability to pay attention to what is happening even on the most basic level, like inside our bodies. To start to reconnect with what is happening on the inside can open up the channels to reach out to others. If we are willing to show them the places inside us that don’t feel strong, competent and in control, we have the opportunity to be cared for, comforted and loved. We can find true and deep encouragement and connection that can be game-changers for people suffering from traumatic events.
How has faith grounded each of you and informed your thinking around this topic?
HW: Faith gives me the courage to believe things could be different than they are. There is the opportunity to grow, no matter how difficult life gets or what comes our way. We are connected to a God that loves us, knows us intimately and cares for us. This outlook helps shape the work I do with my clients and the hope I hold for myself and those I love.
GF: It is like the chicken and the egg. While I couldn’t have done this work without the spiritual backing I lean on, at other times it was the spiritual part that led the way.
HW: Faith gives us courage to step out into the unknown and face some challenges others might run from. I think of you, George, running into a fire, and of my time working in the ER and ICU, dealing with the dying and those in grief. Those are places most people try to avoid—but we have both had experiences that have helped us to know God more deeply, and that gave us a richer connection with others because of what we have been through.
GF: God was our teacher, helping us learn this process from the bottom up, teaching us this process. In moments of stress, we felt God’s presence and we appreciated the value of the struggle because it allowed us to get closer to God. I was praying the other day, and the following image came to me: If you are running a marathon, it is God who meets you along the way when you are so exhausted and gives you water to keep you going. When you don’t run the marathon and sit at home, watching TV with a bag of chips, you really don’t need God. Stress is the opportunity where God can show up in our lives.
HW: In moving out of our comfort zone, we can encounter God in a new way. We build lives of comfort to keep us buffered and safe, but sometimes that isn’t where life really is.
What would be good next steps after reading this book?
GF: Try to practice. It is not enough to read the information—you will find it most beneficial when you practice it. Look for these opportunities in stress to change how you think about it and use it as a doorway to go deeper and connect with other people. Get ready for a fun ride!
HW: Sharing your take-aways with a few people you trust will serve as accountability to live what you are learning. You can invite them to take that ride with you—to work though problems differently and think about life from a different vantage point. This can reinforce the content and make it a reality in both of your lives.
GF: We encourage you to write down your own stress story, what it means to your life and what sort of vision you have of where it could be different.
HW: As Kierkegaard put it, “We live our lives forward but only understand them backwards.” As you take a retrospective look at your own life history, you may see opportunities that have come out of places of suffering, loss and challenge—opportunities you might not have otherwise experienced.
What is your personal story of stress throughout your life?
What are the ways you learned to handle stress?
Had you heard of eustress before reading this book? Does it make sense to you? Why or why not?
If you take an inventory of your life, how much time do you spend in eustress versus distress?
1. Reframing Thinking
Look back over your life and come up with an example of when stress felt overwhelming and negative, but that you have now come to understand as a pivotal moment or an opportunity for growth.
What circumstances in your life today could be reframed? How would you reframe them?
2. Creating Connections
How comfortable are you with vulnerability? Is it something you tend to share or hide from? Why?
Which positive emotions do you experience most often? Which of the darker emotions are you more comfortable with?
3. Opening the Door to Transformation
After reading this chapter, how do see you the emotions you are less comfortable with?
How do you think God feels about these dark emotions?
4. Nurturing the Ultimate Connection
In what circumstances in your most intimate relationship do you tend to pursue and your partner tend to withdraw? In what circumstances do you tend to withdraw and your partner pursue? What is your cycle?
How much do you think about the emotional bond when you think about sex? What kind of things contribute to feeling emotionally connected in physical intimacy?
In your understanding, how might your spirituality be connected with your sexuality?
5. Enjoying the Wild Ride
What percentage of the time do you feel like you are tuned in to your child’s need? How do you tune in?
Would applying “good enough” parenting to your score offer you some relief? Why or why not?
When there is conflict, do members of your family talk about the vulnerability underneath their defensiveness or is it avoided? If yes, discuss how these conversations have come about. If no, offer a few ways to encourage them.
6. Breaking a Dependency
What is your emotional relationship with money? How do you think this relationship was shaped or developed?
What is your vision of a healthy relationship with money?
7. Claiming Strength and Resiliency
Share events in your life that constricted your view of the world, made you feel mistrust, created a lack of safety, or invoked necessary survival responses like anxiety and withdrawal.
In those times of stress, have people been able to be there for you? What was that like for you? Have you been there for others? What did you do?
How would you describe a healthy and holistic definition of stress? How might you apply this to your current life circumstances and relationships?
How does your sense of knowing God or following your spiritual practice inform the way you experience or understand stress in your life?