The Red Zone: unsafe areas in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, a region of France decimated during WWI, the area on the field between the 20 yard line and the end zone in American football (source: wikipedia). The term Red Zone is a fairly well understood term that designates either a problem area or a heightened sense of alertness, as in the case of football. I’m extending that meaning to the emotional place many pastors and leaders find themselves in, sometimes without there even knowing it. Consider these subtle clues that may point to your being in the stress Red Zone. Mentally check the ones true of you.
10 indicators you are in the stress Red Zone
- You quickly walk by someone at church or at the office to avoid a conversation simply because you don’t have the energy to engage.
- Fun in ministry and life seems to have disappeared.
- When you come home your spouse says, “You look terrible.”
- When you come home you could go to bed, right then.
- You can’t shake the free floating anxiety that seems to cling to you.
- Small things that once didn’t bother you now set you off.
- You often ruminate over and rehearse negative issues in your ministry and/or life.
- You easily default to worse case scenario thinking.
- You feel anger coursing deep within.
- You’re not sleeping very well.
How many did you mentally check? If you checked any of these, you may be in the stress Red Zone.
Often leaders lead in such stress-filled environments that their bodies and brains are awash in the stress hormone, cortisol. When under stress, whether good or bad, our adrenal glands (located atop our kidneys) release this important hormone. Cortisol is not all bad. We need it in times of stress. However, it becomes harmful when we are perpetually under stress and our body gets overexposed to it and other stress related hormones.
Here’s what can happen to your body if it’s perpetually awash in cortisol.
- dampened immunity: you’ll get sick more often
- digestive problems
- heart disease
- weight gain
- impaired brain functioning, especially memory
- sleep impairment
So what can you do if you realize you are in the stress Red Zone? Consider these ideas.
- Make sure you regularly exercise as exercise can help reduce excessive cortisol in your body.
- Practice mindfulness as part of your spiritual formation process. My latest book includes an entire chapter on mindfulness.
- Get 30 minutes more sleep each night.
- Take your day off…really take it off. Don’t even look at email for 24 hours straight on your day off.
- Talk to a friend, your spouse, or a counselor about your stress. Others can often give us a more objective sense of reality which can reduce our stress.
What has helped you manage your stress and avoid being awash in cortisol?
Peter Drucker, one of the world’s greatest leadership experts, once listed what he considered the four hardest jobs in the world. Here are those four: President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital, and a pastor. Wow, strong words from a wise man. Although I’ve not held the first three jobs, I have served as a pastor for over 33 years. It can be tough and pastors must care for their souls. Consider these 8 ways to refresh your tired soul.
- Do something totally different from ministry. Often pastors spend even their free time on ministry related pursuits and thoughts. Consider doing something totally different from the ministry vein. I once took improv classes I found very refreshing to my soul.
- Be okay with taking care of you. Pete Scazzero, most known for emotionally healthy spirituality, learned this the hard way and wrote these words.
- “The degree to which you love yourself corresponds to the degree to which you love others. Caring for ourselves was difficult for us to do without feeling guilty. We unwittingly thought that dying to ourselves for the sake of the gospel meant dying to marital intimacy and joy in life. We had died to something God had never intended we die to.” (www.christianity today.com/le/1998/winter/8l1063.html)
- Keep healthy boundaries with others. A boundary is a line that helps define those things for which we are responsible. They define who we are and who we are not; when properly managed they can bring us great freedom with others in our churches. I recommend Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s bestseller Boundaries for better understanding.
- Lighten up and laugh more often (not at others’ expense, though). Current research on how humor affects leadership has discovered that the most effective leaders use humor more often than less effective ones. (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 34).
- Build relationships with no ministry purpose in mind. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible paraphrase said…
- “Pastors can lose touch with relational vitality when their relationships are driven by programmatic necessity. When this happens, pastors can lose the context for love, hope, faith, touch, and a kind of mutual vulnerability. In the midst of the congregation, pastors become lonely and feel isolated-and that isolation can be deadly to the pastoral life. Those are the conditions in which inappropriate intimacies flourish.” (http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=3280)
- Take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep.
- Master technology, don’t let it master you. I’m a techno geek. I was one of the original Mac owners and I use an iPhone and an iPad. I love electronic gadgets. I’m on Facebook. I tweet, text, e-mail, and blog. I’ve found, however, that technology can easily enslave me. It’s a battle yet when I control my technology, I’m more at peace. Interestingly, research has shown that the average worker is interrupted every eleven minutes and takes twenty-five minutes to refocus back on his job. I found that to be generally true in my life when I compulsively check e-mail.
- Periodically take a solo retreat. Occasionally I’ve taken a night and a day at a local retreat center. I’m usually the only one there. When I go, I think, pray, plan, write, and study. Those periodic getaways refresh my soul and help break me from the rigors of ministry, resetting my focus to respond appropriately to the stresses ministry brings.
What has helped add life to your soul as a pastor?
In my last post I discussed how ministry stress can sometimes make pastors feel like zombies: listless, unmotivated, and mentally distracted. Many of you took the Zombie Zone Quiz to find out if you were in that zombie zone.
purchased from Deposit Photos
So if you currently feel like a zombie pastor, what can you do to renew your passion, energy, and zest for ministry? Consider these 10 simple steps that can help you regain your joy and step into God’s healthy zone.
Zombies are big today. Big budget movies, popular TV shows, commercials, and even zombie action figures have invaded our culture. Even before they became popular, when someone said, ‘I feel like a zombie,” we knew what they meant… they felt exhausted, lifeless, listless, and were simply going through the motions.
photo purchased through Deposit Photos
As a pastor for over 30 years, at times I’ve felt like a zombie pastor. Ministry stress, disappointments, and pressure sometimes seemed to sap my soul of life, energy, and joy.
So how do you know if you are a zombie pastor? Take the Pastor Zombie Zone Quiz. (Tweet this quote here)
A brief excerpt from my latest book, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them.
Thomas Kelly, a twentieth-century Quaker, died the day a company discussed publishing his essays. Fortunately a friend followed through and those essays were compiled into A Testament of Devotion. Kelly succinctly captures why we need to heed Jesus’ offer: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”