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Ask Deborah: Self Care
September 24, 2012

Deborah Patterson knows health ministry. As the executive director of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and author of Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations, she works daily with parish nurses, pastors, and health professionals. In this feature, she answers your most pressing or perplexing questions on health ministry. Are you hitting a roadblock with a program in your church? Are you wondering where to start with health ministry? Do you feel like you need a new idea on a specific topic? Ask Deborah!

QUESTION: Help! I’ve been a faith community nurse for a couple of years now, and I am really starting to feel the stress. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Yep, the excitement and the fear and the trepidation and the learning curve have all sort of flattened out and you are now in the middle of “The Long Haul,” (aka “The Wilderness”). Let’s take a few cues from the book of Exodus as we look to how to handle this stretch while you maintain your sanity and keep stress to a minimum.

1. Get some rest. You have escaped the tyranny of what you were doing before. I won’t call other forms of nursing or ministry “slavery in Egypt” because you know it’s not, but you did answer the call to go forth to a new land. But right now you are not sure what this whole journey is going to end up looking like. It’s okay to regularly stop and relax for awhile.

2. Stay hydrated. It’s amazing how, when you get stressed, you forget to drink and then you are more susceptible to viruses and other infections. Like when Moses struck the stone for water, you need to stop for a drink several times a day, too. And avoid caffeine, which will only make things worse. If you must have a cup of coffee, limit your consumption to one cup early in the day and then switch to decaf or herbal drinks. And remember that most sodas are full of caffeine (and sugar, and chemicals—don’t do that to yourself.

3. Eat your manna. Are you taking time for regular meals? Like the Israelites eating manna in the wilderness, eat a moderate amount—only what you need for the day, but do be sure to eat. I’m sure that manna was both tasty and healthy, and you know what tasty, healthy meals look like, too. They don’t come out of drive-through windows, at least not very often!

4. Watch for the burning bushes. Be aware of the glory around you. God is waiting to break through to you with messages of love and compassion for you and those to whom and with whom you minister.

5. You are not alone. Moses led the Israelites along with his brother and sister. You are in ministry with others. Be sure to share the load, which in health ministry means pulling together a strong and vibrant health committee.

6. Go tell it on the mountain. Well, at least be sure that you communicate, because you bear a lot of stress by not talking about what is bothering you. Communicate honestly, clearly, and regularly with the folks with whom you work. And be sure you have folks (friends, family, a professional therapist) who will listen to you.

7. Get a pet. It is interesting how few pets appear in the Bible, but people must have grown attached to their donkeys and colts. Research shows that pets can help us reduce stress.

8. Keep walking. The people wandered in the desert, they didn’t just stand there for 40 years. Otherwise they would have been very unhealthy. Exercise is good for your body, your mind, and your stress levels.

9. Avoid too much alcohol. Jesus may have turned water into wine, but he didn’t drink it all himself. A little wine may be good for you, but larger amounts will contribute to stress.

10. Keep praying. Moses only got to see the promised land; he didn’t get to go there during his earthly lifetime. We likely won’t get to see the promised land during our lifetimes, either. But prayer will keep us connected to the one whose promises are true and can be trusted. (And meditation is extremely good for helping us to manage stress.) Shalom!

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Deborah Patterson is here for you and your church. To send in a question to Deborah, send an email and write "Ask Deborah" in the subject line. Please include your first name and location.