A recent study, taking in 4,619 people, concluded that three-quarters of people in the UK have felt ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ during the past year. Young people are most likely to be stressed with 83% of 18-24 year olds saying this, compared with 65% of 55 years old and over. There was also a gender divide, with 81% of women feeling this way, compared with 67% of men.
The reasons for this feeling of ‘not coping’ were described in the study as being long term health conditions, work, money, technology and social media.
The sensation of things getting out of control is one we can all identify with – as resources become stretched and expectations become ever more functional – we are left vulnerable to being overrun both physically and mentally.
So much of life appears out of our control, so escalating the feeling of ‘not coping’. But there are things which are in our control – and these things need to be activated in order to safeguard ourselves from ‘burn-out’.
When people go through challenging times, the one ingredient which pops up almost every time in what helped the person ‘get through’ is the benefit of loyal friends. Having people around us who know us, like us and are not reticent in encouraging us – is vital to overcoming the harshest of circumstances. We need to be really careful in choosing who it is we listen to, whose advice we look for, and who can be trusted with the off-loading of anxiety and worry. This company of friends is important beyond words – and because of this it is equally important to ensure we do not allow the toxic voices to infiltrate our thinking and direction. These ‘toxic’ voices do not really listen to our situation, and they are not really for us.
But when we live in the midst of a community of friendship which encourages and shapes our thinking in a good, healthy way, then it is as though we are being carried along – especially when life is not easy. The imagery which the bible uses is that of a river. A river which flows from the altar of heaven, teeming with life and vibrancy, blessing every place and channel it flows into. This river is a pictorial description of the blessing of God’s friendship – a friendship we enjoy as we worship, praise and give thanks – and a a friendship we share with one another as we live in fellowship. We can read of this in Ezekiel chapter 47 – it is a truly wonderful, inspiring chapter of scripture.
The blessings of friendship means we have an urgent dynamic to ensure we meet with others in friendship – it might be in the pilates class we attend, it might be drinking coffee (or a glass of sherry!) after a church service, it might be walking in the forest with friends – whatever the context it is as though we take ourselves to the river and experience the life affirming energy we receive from being accepted simply for who we are and not what we do. This needs to be our dominant experience – and this enables us to give time, when required, to the ‘marshlands’ of life where the toxicity of blame, accusation and mean heartedness can be challenged and re-directed into channels of grace and love (the river of life).
‘Not coping’ is a very real experience. It can make everything seem hopeless. Friendship – such a simple and uncomplicated thing – is the antidote we cannot afford to ignore. When those friendships stretch across the generations we really are in a good place – a river which ‘makes glad the city of our God’ (Psalm 46).