Yesterday I began talking about what causes a person to have a nervous breakdown. I promised that today I would give some practical helps that I have found in my own life to prevent burnout. I'm going to extend this to tomorrow's post and share three things today and three tomorrow. Here we go with the first three:
In caring for my emotional/mental health I..
Give myself permission to pull away.
I'm not referring to an unhealthy pulling away, like staying in bed with my head under the covers for three days and refusing to talk to anyone or go anywhere. Prolonged isolation only makes things worse. What I'm talking about are momentary breathers -- small pockets of solitude. I know that I can feel overwhelmed being in a crowd. Most people would never guess that about me because I'm in front of people talking all the time. But the truth is, being in front of a crowd and being in the midst of a crowd are two different things. I can't handle being in the midst if it's prolonged. There are some of you who go through this too, but you are embarrassed to tell anyone. Let me break the ice and let you know, you aren't alone if you get stressed being in the middle of in large crowds or by multiple loud noises. I don't get overwhelmed by one type of loud noise (i.e. one kind of music, a football game, video game etc.) But, when you mix the noises all together, I can't take it for longer than just a few minutes.
Anyway, in the midst of crowds and mixed noise, every once in a while I have to find a quiet place to get centered. There are times even at church when I'm not speaking or leading, I'll go to my office, sit in my chair quietly for 10 minutes or so, and just enjoy the silence and then go back to the crowd. The other night we had a house full for New Year's Eve and some of them were there for almost 8 hours. Our first guest got there at 5 pm and the last ones left at 2 am. Twice during that time I disappeared for 10 to 15 minutes and just sat in the quietness of my room. I needed a respite from all the hoopla going on just right outside my bedroom door. Usually nobody asks where I was or what I was doing. Most assume I just used the restroom. Keep in mind as well - we don't owe anyone explanations about these things. Why am I even writing about it here? Because I'm helping somebody who needed to hear this who thought they were alone. [I realize for some of you, a quiet place in your life isn't a reality right now and you are under pressure 24/7 which is why you are about to snap. And for you my heart is particularly touched and I am praying. That was sort of what my life was like when I had two babies a year apart and was awake almost 24/7 and pastoring at the same time.]
Give myself permission to say no.
There are times I'm not up to accepting an invitation. I say no from the beginning, however. Being a person of commitment, I hate it when people tell me they will do something and then don't follow through. So the last thing I want to do is commit to participate and then not honor my word. A few months ago on one of the holidays (I think it was President's Day) some friends really wanted our family to come for a cookout. A big crowd was coming. It had been a long work week for me, filled with many challenges. I think I would have been okay with two or three friends, relaxing and drinking coffee and and talking. But being in the middle of a large group would have suffocated me that day. Being that it was a fun cookout with friends they couldn't understand how that would possibly put any stress on me and seemed upset that I turned down the invitation. But I knew I had to do what was best for my emotional well being. This means even if my family wants to go and whines and complains that they want me to go, I ask them to understand my limitations and go on without me. I'm happy for them that they get to enjoy what they want to do, and just ask the same courtesy.
Give myself permission to not be presentable 24/7.
Especially as ministers/spouses we feel the pressure to be "on" and presentable. The fact is there are times I want to be in my jammies. There are times I don't want to wear a bra. Heck, there are times I don't even want to wear clothes at all! Of course my home is the only place I would do that. I'm always presentable when I go out. But the issue is many leaders feel that they have to be "on" even in their house! And we wonder why so many pastors have a nervous breakdown. There are friends in the church who stop by without calling and truthfully I am a "call ahead" type person, not a "stop by unannounced" type person. I've warned them: if you come by my house without calling there's no telling how I might answer the door, so just be forewarned. Having to be "on" even in your home has the propensity to drive anybody to a nervous breakdown. I just won't do it. I know the pastor's wives of the 1950's did it. News flash: it's 2010.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the next three ...