With the holidays just around the corner, pastors enter one of their busiest seasons with the possible exception of Holy Week. From All Saints Day through to the inauguration of a New Year, pastors take up seasonal demands at a time when personal and ecclesial expectations are often unrealistically high. For example, senior pastors may wonder what new insight can they offer in Advent sermons? Assistant pastors or staff may assume additional responsibility for church programming such as organizing a children’s Christmas presentation or arranging for seasonal special music (translation;  extra rehearsals!). If those responsibilities alone aren’t enough to increase one’s anxiety, personal and familial expectations soar (or is that sore?) because family dysfunction never takes a holiday. So what can pastors do to keep their systems in “active alert”—where creativity is supported—instead of plunging into “flight, flight, or freeze” where perspectives narrow into “find safety quickly”?

“I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4)

Here are five actions you can take to lower your anxiety this holiday season:

  1.  Maintain or even increase physiological self-care strategies. These practices include things like scheduling (not finding) Sabbath rest, eating well when meals of celebration aren’t on the menu (who wants to forego pumpkin pie?), manage caffeine intake instead of majoring in caffeine consumption, and maintaining reasonable exercise. If these aren’t your practices, choose the easiest one to build into your holiday routines. What strategy can you begin to adopt now to prevent seasonal anxiety?
  2. Maintain your personal time with God. Be careful not to use your sermon preparation time as a substitute for your own personal time with God. Double-dipping doesn’t count! You read Scripture differently when praying the Psalms as a way to bring yourself into the Father’s presence than if you are planning your Psalms sermon series. Let your insights emerge spontaneously from your devotional practices instead of letting your devotion be submerged beneath sermon preparation. Have you considered your time alone with God as a time to detach from your role as a pastor?
  3. Enlist the cooperation of family members. Consider asking your family to (1) help review the number of party invitations that are anticipated (think “portion control”), and (2) to anticipate pastoral time needed for programmatic organization or sermon preparation (think time management), and (3) remember to attend to the needs of yourself and your own family. These steps will help you to be the master of your calendar and prevent undue stress during a high stress season. How might it help you and your family to talk with them ahead of time to decide how best to approach this busy holiday season?
  4. Anticipate the days that will be busiest. Most likely “this is not your first holiday rodeo.” If you have been there and done that before, draw upon that past experience to anticipate what days will be most busy for you. What can you learn from previous holiday experiences to lower your holiday stress?
  5. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Grace-filled self-kindness is more supportive and motivating than self-criticism and contempt. The more realistic your expectations are for yourself, the more likely you are to enjoy the holiday season. Are you realistic with what you expect from yourself during this time? With others?

To learn more about coping with holiday stress, see the following:

  1. Listen/watch this podcast: “Crazy Busy: Three Ways to Prevent Hurry and Worry”
  2. Read this article for more ideas of managing holiday stress: “Six Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

Emotional contributor: Dr. Toddy Holeman, Chair, Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Asbury Theological Seminary

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle

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