Some seasons are more stressful than others—especially seasons of great change. This past year has been such a season for many people, including church leaders. Spiritually leading and nurturing people through an unprecedented time have taken a toll on many pastors.
Regardless of how much emotional and spiritual reserves you had before the pandemic, a stressful period will deplete your emotional and spiritual tank a little each day, like letting the air out of a tire.
I love what Paul says in the Message paraphrase of Romans 12:12: “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.”
How do you keep yourself fueled and emotionally healthy during stressful seasons?
Here are the first five out of 10 biblical actions—or what I’m calling “10 commandments of emotional health”—to prevent burnout:
Show grace to yourself and others. (James 4:6)
Treat yourself and others how God treats you—with grace, mercy, and forgiveness. God always gives us what we need, not what we deserve. During hard times, we need extra grace.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect yourself to perform at the same level you did before a crisis period. You’re likely exhausted, so is everyone else. That’s normal with prolonged stress. Cut people (including yourself) some slack.
Start and end each day refueling your soul. (James 1:21)
According to the Message paraphrase, the Bible says: “I was up before sunrise, crying for help, hoping for a word from you” (Psalm 119:147). When you’re looking for hope, you need time in God’s Word. Recent studies have proven that the attitude you have for the entire day is set during the first few minutes of your morning.
One way to keep from burning out is to put your Bible near your bed and leave it open. (We’re likely to overlook a closed Bible but not an open one.) Before you do anything else, read a passage from God’s Word and reflect on it. Read until God speaks to you—whether it’s one verse or a chapter.
Set and stick to a routine. (Ephesians 5:15-16)
Predictability is an important stress reducer, especially when everything is changing in your life. A routine gives you the stability you need to help you refuel your tank.
Putting together a new routine when you’re going through a difficult season may take some creativity, but it will be worth the effort.
Reduce your media consumption. (Matthew 6:22-23)
It’s easy to spend extra time watching television or scrolling through social media when you feel overwhelmed. But if you fill your mind with constant images of negativity, you’ll only raise your stress level.
You don’t need to hear the same negative story on repeat. You become what you allow into your brain. Years ago, the computer industry had a phrase—GIGO, “garbage in, garbage out.” The computer can only give you the data you put into it. The same is true with your brain. A stressful period is a great time to build new routines that include less media consumption.
Schedule a daily time to connect with the people you love. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
One of the most meaningful things you can do during a difficult season is to listen carefully to people. It doesn’t take long to lift someone’s spirit, but it does need to be intentional. You won’t drift into meaningful connections. It’ll take a commitment—and likely a consistent spot on your calendar.
These meaningful connections aren’t simply ministry connections. Neither are they another task on your to-do list. They’re opportunities to reach out to dear friends, family members, or neighbors. Encourage them, listen to them, and open up to them. You need meaningful connections to refuel emotionally—and so do the people you love.