By NAD Ministerial Department

We can hardly believe it, but it is almost here. The fourth Thursday of November is the official kickoff of the “holiday season,” and with it, we often add more business and stress to an already compounded schedule. The next five weeks can bring more than just fun, food, and fellowship with family and friends. It also can bring increased stress, financial strain, painful memories, grieving, missing loved ones, loneliness, and more.

While this “most wonderful time of the year” gives us Christians more opportunities to count our blessings, celebrate our Savior and look to the future with hope, it can also bring sadness, depression, anxiety, tears, and the “holiday blues.” All this good stress or “eustress” and bad stress or “distress” takes a toll on us mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In some cases, the holidays can intensify these feelings. You can think of it as a two-edged sword. Even though these days are filled with special spiritual meaning for pastors and parishioners alike, for some, the stress of it all can lead to tragic outcomes.

“The holiday season comes with its own set of stressors and expectations, both internally and externally. Being overwhelmed by these holiday-related stressors can lead to symptoms of depression.” 1

“Strong emotions and lots of stress increases activity in a brain region called the amygdala. And these increases are associated with inflammation in the arteries (which supply the heart muscle with blood) and, down the road, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart-related events.” 2

A Swedish study quoted in an article from Baptist Health South Florida observed that “in comparison to the two weeks before and after Christmas, heart attack risks were 37% higher on Christmas Eve, 20% higher on New Year’s Day, and 15% higher on Christmas Day.” 3

Everyone is subject to stress at the holidays, but it has been noted that pastors face added layers of expectations as they navigate through the holiday season. This combination can lead to physiological issues, like heart attacks or strokes. Also, mental health issues can escalate, as in burn-out or depression. The real question is how can those called to serve congregations juggle the extra doses of holiday happiness and the added stress of the season while maintaining their own health?

Self-care is NEVER selfish. The Bible commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves; which means we must first love ourselves. God said through John that above all things we should be prosperous and in good health. With these important God-given messages, let us look at some recommendations for pastors to do quality self-care during the holiday season:

  1. Claim God’s abundant, precious promises a-new. Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks (Phil. 4:6). Sometimes we may forget, but we know a loving God who will never leave us, nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Remember, my power is strongest when you are weak (2 Cor. 12:9). Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).
  2. Take some quiet time now to set realistic limits. Decide to protect your time, your budget, and your health. Take a hard look at the next 5-6 weeks and prioritize your duties and times, reschedule things that can wait until after the holidays, anticipate the busiest days and see if you can delegate or enlist the assistance of those who love and support you. Set some budget limits to avoid overspending. Make yourself, your health, your piece of mind, a priority. While you do that for yourself, encourage fewer, but meaningful churchwide celebrations, too.
  3. Maintain or even increase physiological self-care strategies. These practices include things like scheduling rest/relaxation time or short breaks in your schedule, eating well (most days 😉), exercising, scheduling a massage or two, taking some evening walks with your spouse and time with the kids, as well as respecting a descent bedtime to get your much needed rest.
  4. Buy your time back. Enlist help hanging Christmas lights, running errands, performing household chores, and wrapping gifts. Give you and your spouse a break by ordering pre-made food for holiday meals and parties. Decline any invitations that you can and attend only the events that have the most meaning to you. (Sometimes you have to say “no”)
  5. Let your health benefits work for you. Understanding when and how to use the medical benefits and wellness tools included in your medical plan can help you stay healthy and manage stress all year long, and especially during the holidays. Honor God by taking care of your body and manage chronic conditions by taking your medication and utilizing the monitoring and maintenance tools that have been made available in your health plan. If needed, make appointments with your health care team to evaluate any symptoms or concerns you might have. Listen to your body! Be mindful and aware, and don’t put if off if medical attention is needed. Don’t hesitate to get help.

If you have or have the potential towards holiday blues, “a persistent or recurring feeling of sadness that begins during the holiday season,” whether it is due to high stress, holiday pressures, depression or grief, our goal here is to encourage you.

Beloved pastor, take care of yourself, now and always. Your worth and value is measureless to us and to our God. We want you to be whole, to be well in all aspects of life. Achieving the right balance can provide the fuel you need to maintain your health while living out your calling and serving others well throughout this busy time.

Happy Holidays!

NAD Ministerial Department. Republished by permission from North American Division ministerial department newsletter.