Guest Post Richard Parker
Christmas is a happy and joyful time. Even so, many people, including (and maybe especially) youth workers, find themselves dealing with a host of negative emotions this time of year. (A fact that only leads to MORE negative emotions!) Why? After all, it’s Christmas, right?
For many, it’s a simple formula: The higher the level of stress = the higher the chance of a bout with depression.
The increased stress of the season can be a major trigger for feelings of depression and anxiety. Over the years, I have noticed there are three major areas of stress for youth workers during the Christmas season. I call these “The Three Overs.” An awareness of these will not only help you to enjoy this wonderful season, but hopefully avoid increased feelings of depression and/or anxiety.
OVER #1: Over-Booking
Plan the Christmas party, oversee the ministry project, get the youth ready for the Christmas program, send off paper work for the winter retreat, attend the staff party… Does this sound like your to do list at Christmas?
There are so many things happening around a church at Christmas that the pace can almost be overwhelming. The constant activity can keep us revved up for a while, but once the pace slows the body may react with feelings of restlessness. And maybe even feelings of depression. So what can you do to ease the hectic feeling of an overloaded schedule?
- Do what you MUST do and PASS on the rest. It’s great to attend a class party or show up for a school Christmas event, but not at the expense of your mental health. The youth worker’s schedule at Christmas is CRAZY, try hard not to make it unnecessarily so.
- Pace yourself when it comes to your planning. Spread major youth events and activities out over the month as much as possible.
- Say no to some things. If you let them, people will fill up all of your time, especially at Christmas. There is nothing wrong with politely saying no.
- Create some you time. This may sound selfish, but giving yourself some down time to be alone and enjoy the season on your terms is a great way to ease the stress of a killer schedule.
OVER #2: Over-Spending
The youth minister is usually the low man on the totem pole when it comes to staff salaries. A lower income makes things tough year-round, but especially so at Christmas. This extra financial crunch can be incredibly stressful at the “giving time of year,” and can lead to increased feelings of worry and anxiety.
- Don’t mess around with Credit Cards. Those December charges will have to be paid after the first of the year. This reality will cause a great deal of stress! Save yourself the trouble.
- Stay within your budget. Give gifts according to your income, and don’t give the quality or the quantity of your gifts a second thought! My uncle told me that years ago, when he was a young preacher, the only thing he and my aunt could give for Christmas gifts were figurines they carved out of soap. Imagine the love and care that went into each one of these humble gifts! Christmas is about giving love, not giving stuff. Accept this and save yourself the stress and anxiety of stretching the budget to buy “nicer” things.
OVER #3: Over-Expecting
Christmas is a time for family. But let’s just be brutally honest: Family can be a source of stress and frustration on a good day! Often, the strain of the holidays can magnify even the most minor family dysfunction into a full-blown event! There’s something about Christmas that knits families together. But, even as this is true, we sometimes tend to over-expect what these times together might actually be like. When we’re let down, it can lead to a ton of negative emotions.
What can we do to have realistic family expectations at Christmas?
- Forget the perfect family stereotype. We are bombarded at Christmas with images of the perfect family. Anything short of that image makes us think, “Why can’t my family be like everyone else’s family?” If your family isn’t perfect, then your family is normal.
- Embrace your unique family dynamics. Christmas may not be the best time to try to “fix” what ails your family. Embrace the quirks. Love your family for who they are. Go into the holidays expecting to take the good, and let the bad fall away.
Depression and anxiety are two very real emotional problems that exist outside the Christmas rush. But the stress of the season can often lead these issues to cloud what could and should be a peaceful, joyous time. Keep yourself emotionally healthy by avoiding the “Three Overs.”
(NOTE: This article is more about preventing depression than treating it. If you’re suffering from some of the symptoms of depression I mentioned in my earlier blog post “Stress, Depression and Anxiety in the Life of the Youth Minister,” please consider seeking help from a clinically trained professional.)
Richard Parker has been a student minister for the past 33 years, serving at First Baptist Church in Russellville, Ala., for the past 23 years. He’s written a three volume set of Character Education curriculum for schools, has written Character, a year long devotional book for students, and writes Youth Worker BOOST, a weekly devotion for youthministry360.com. Richard speaks in schools as well as at various church and civic conferences.