Monday, November 23, 2009

Going the Distance - Chapter 4

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 4: Stress and adrenalin: understanding your body clockIn this chapter, Brain looks at stress and how we respond to it. He says:

Stress cannot be avoided in life and ministry. There will always be emergencies to attend to, difficult circumstances and people that need attention, regular deadlines to meet, plus our own expectations driving us.

What is important is our response to stress, and the way we manage our lives so as to avoid unnecessary stress. (p53)
He goes on to detail some of the body's natural responses to stress. It is helpful how he points out again that stress cannot be avoided, nor should it be:
Life is to be lived - and lived to the fullest. Being highly motivated to accomplish some task and able to work with enthusiasm is a great blessing. (quoting Hart, p57)
However, he does warn of the toll of long-term stress, with no release, using the words of Arch Hart:
Both roads - stress and burnout - lead ultimately to depression. The depression that comes from stress is due to the exhaustion of the adrenal system. On the other hand, the depression that comes from burnout is the loss of your vision, of your ideals. (p58)
Hart goes on to outline the 4 danger areas for a minister, when under ill-managed stress:

1. Arrogance - "I can do it myself"
2. Addiction - excited and addicted to own work
3. Aloneness - cuts off from other people, here depression can set in
4. Adultery - turns to sex to fulfill his needs

So what to do??

Brain gives a number of suggestions, which include:
- manage your diary well
- build in time for friends
- remember that God is in control - not us!
- plan ahead (similar to a well managed diary)
- watch your use of artificial stimulants - caffeine, etc.
A factor in all of it, one that I really have learned is that we work better when relaxed rather than stressed. Some will disagree with this claiming "I work better with a deadline", but research is suggesting that people are most creative and innovative when relaxed.

I have certainly found this to be true for myself. Earlier this year I had a number of talks to give. On days when I only had a little time to work on them, and I was trying to squeeze in a moment here and there with kids around, I got almost nothing done. But on quiet days, when I had time to think and no urgency - I was able to think clearly and productively. It made me decide not to even try to work on them on higher stress days and leave my time for the quieter days, for I knew I could get more done that way.


Some things we thought through as we read this chapter were:

1. It is useful to think about how your body physically copes with stress. I have realised recently that my response is tiredness, I just need to sleep. This has been good to identify, so that I can realise when body is saying "enough!"

2. Similarly, for those of us supporting husbands in ministry - we want to learn what their signals are. Some signs people have told me about include:
- a lower level of patience with children
- the need for a break, some time-out
- forgetfulness - when she notices coffee cups in odd places and glasses left at home, she knows he is stressed
- more likely to get sick

3. Be aware of times of high-stress. In our little prayer group, Term 3 for our husbands is a big one. It starts with Mid Year Conference (MYC), and the energy needs to be maintained through to Jesus Week (Mission Week) 4 weeks later and then through to the end of the term. After watching the pattern for 5 years, I have realised that I need to be prepared for Term 3 to be busy and to make home a relaxing place, rather than another source of stress. So, the lawns are unlikely to be mown for some time, but that doesn't really matter!

4. Try to factor in some 'down time' after times of high-stress. My husband likes to go out for dinner, just to chat, in the days after MYC, to catch up and have a breather.

5. I wonder whether it is pointless to try to relax prior to a high-stress event? We used to take holidays in November, but I always felt a shadow hanging over me as  my husband would leave a few days after to be away for 2 weeks. I felt the anxiety knowing I was to be parenting alone for 2 weeks, and was less relaxed on holiday. We learnt not to take holidays before he went away, but rather afterwards. Similarly there is no point him trying to take holidays in the weeks before he is speaking at MYC, there is just too much on his mind.

Some things to think about:

  1. How do you respond to stress?
  2. How does your husband respond to stress?
  3. Have you talked about this together so you can help each other identify those times?
  4. Do you factor in 'down times' after high-stress times? And what would you like to do in those times?

Next Monday: Chapter 5 - Depression doesn't have to be depressing

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