6 Ways Pastors Can Combat Holiday Stress and Keep a Joyful (and Healthy) Heart

By Scott Charbonneau, Managing Director of Insurance Solutions, GuideStone

It’s almost here. The fourth Thursday of November is the traditional kickoff to five fun and frantic weeks of holiday celebrations. As Christians, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the arrival of the new year are annual opportunities for us to count our blessings, celebrate our Savior and look to the future with hope. 

While these days are filled with spiritual meaning for pastors and their congregations, they are also times of overloaded schedules, excessive splurging and heightened stress — which can all take a toll on our brains and our hearts.

For some, the stress can lead to tragic outcomes. A few years ago a study conducted by the Keck School of Medicine noted that Christmas Eve is a peak time for heart attacks. 

So why does the happiest time of year end with a life-changing hospital visit for so many?

There are a number of things that trigger these holiday heart attacks, but stress bears the brunt of the blame for our holiday heart woes. Stress affects our bodies in a variety of ways.

  • When we’re stressed, we release adrenaline — a hormone that causes temporary spikes in blood pressure, increases our heart rate and changes our breathing patterns.
  • Stress also triggers negative emotions, causes inflammation, disrupts normal blood flow and affects our cognitive abilities. 
  • And, as we mentioned above, stress can lead to heart attacks. 

While everyone is subject to stress at the holidays, pastors face added layers of expectations as they navigate through the season. The unique situations presented in 2020 may also have pastors feeling even more on edge than usual. So how can those called to serve their congregations juggle the extra doses of holiday happiness and the added stress of the season while maintaining their health? 

I encourage you to focus on managing priorities so that you, your family and your congregation can be well this season. In his book The Pastor’s Primer, GuideStone President Dr. O.S. Hawkins reiterates the importance of setting priorities, saying, “The secret to success in the pastor’s life is, in a word, priority. The hardest workers are not always the most productive. The most productive are those who have defined their priorities in the pastorate and hold to them. Number one — the private life. Number two — the personal life. Number three — the professional life.” 

With these words in mind, we recommend taking proactive steps today to set the proper priorities for the next few weeks. Finding 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. 

Here are six stress-relief strategies that pastors can employ to relieve the pressure on their hearts and fill them with holiday cheer instead.

1. Seek peace through prayer.

The Bible encourages us not to be anxious, but to pray instead. 

  • Fill your heart and protect it from stress by maintaining your personal prayer life.
  • Review and discuss Mary’s powerful prayer in Luke 1:46–55 during your family prayer time.
  • Incorporate additional prayer times throughout your workday, during staff meetings and at other times when stress may be prevalent.

2. Take care of yourself.

Routine maintenance of your heart and your brain can keep you feeling well.

  • Protect your heart by making sleep a priority. GuideStone’s health plans include access to the Time to Sleep Well program if you need help catching enough ZZZs.
  • Prioritize exercise by fitting it in outside of the usual times. For example, take your family on a walk to look at holiday lights.
  • Plan ahead to limit indulgences in rich or sweet food at all of the Sunday school parties you will be attending. 

3. Manage your emotions.

Take these actions to prevent emotional reactions from stressing you out.

  • Maintain your personal Scripture reading and prayer times so your heart will be full.
  • Give yourself and your family freedom to steer clear of situations that trigger negative emotions.  
  • Prioritize your own mental health and encourage the members of your congregation to do the same.  

4. Set realistic limits.

This year make conscious decisions to protect your time, your budget and your health.

  • Pray about your holiday budget and develop a plan that works for you.
  • Avoid overextending your family with traveling. It’s okay to stay home for Thanksgiving and Christmas if that works best for you.
  • Encourage fewer, yet still meaningful, churchwide celebrations.

5. Buy back your time.          

These strategies will give your heart and your mind the rest they both need. 

  • Get help hanging Christmas lights, running errands, performing household chores and wrapping gifts.
  • Give yourself and your spouse a break by ordering premade food for holiday meals and parties. 
  • Decline any invitations that you can. Attend only the events that have the most meaning to you.

6. Put your health benefits to work.

Understanding 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. 

  • Honor God by taking care of your body, and manage chronic conditions by taking your medication and utilizing the monitoring and maintenance tools available in your health plan. 
  • Help your family fight off minor health issues fast with a virtual doctor visit through Teladoc®.
  • End the year healthy by accessing the Sharecare health monitoring app, support by Lark and one-on-one wellness coachingoptions, all of which are available in GuideStone® plans

Managing stress and keeping our hearts healthy are two things we all can be thankful for this November. They are also the most important gifts we can celebrate with our family throughout December and enjoy as we ring in a new year with our church families this January.

Scott Charbonneau is Managing Director of Insurance Solutions at GuideStone. He has served at GuideStone since 2002. Scott has a bachelor’s degree in industrial distribution from Texas A&M University and a Master of Business Administration from Baylor University. Scott has served in multiple capacities at GuideStone, giving him a vast knowledge of retirement, property and casualty, and insurance solutions for churches and ministries. In addition to helping clients, Scott serves as a deacon and life connection teacher at First Baptist Church, Hurst, Texas, where his wife, Kellie, is the preschool minister. He is past president of the Hurst Heritage Foundation and a board member of StrongMarriages. He has served on mission teams, sharing God’s love in North Dakota, West Africa and East Asia. Scott and Kellie have two sons, Keeton and Kyle, and a daughter, Kendall. 

GuideStone welcomes the opportunity to share this general information. However, this article is not intended to be relied upon as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.