10 Ways to Avoid Stress and Renew Mental Health from Take Care of Yourself

By Tirzah Frank, Assistant Editor

Dr. Pablo Martinez’s Take Care of Yourself: Survive and Thrive in Christian Ministry is a petite book packed with comprehensive self-care advice. It’s geared specifically toward people in ministry, but much of Martinez’s advice is applicable to everyone. Here are ten self-care suggestions I gleaned from Take Care of Yourself: five things to do and five to avoid.

First, I had to grapple with one question:

Why should I take care of myself?

Dr. Martinez points out that many Christians feel guilty about caring for themselves, as if prioritizing self-care is lazy or selfish. And taking care of yourself can seem a bit backward. When I first learned about self-care (by which I mean anything that you do to rest, rejuvenate, or restore yourself), it seemed to directly contradict the Christian values of self-sacrifice and putting others’ needs first, so I was very suspicious.

However, Dr. Martinez quickly resolves this question, giving three biblical reasons why Christians should take care of themselves:

  • “Because it is God’s will for us: We were created in his image, so this is related to God’s original design. God included rest in his creation and he commanded rest. Caring for ourselves is therefore an expression of obedience.
  • “Because of our fragility: We are jars of clay, not of iron. Caring for ourselves is related to our human condition. It is an expression of humility—of dependence on God’s grace.
  • “Because it is part of good stewardship: We are temples of the Holy Spirit, so caring for ourselves is part of our responsibility and is an expression of maturity.

“In summary, the practice of rest and the care of yourself, far from being a selfish act, is an exercise of godliness and an expression of holiness.”

With the “why” out of the way, let’s move on to the “how.” As with many disciplines, self-care involves both Dos and Don’ts.

DO:

  1. Observe the “three-fold rest”:
    • “The daily rest: sleep
    • The weekly rest: the Sabbath
    • The annual rest: a seasonal holiday”
  2. Pay attention to burnout’s warning signs. Among other things, these include:
    • Irritability
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Fatigue
    • Lack of motivation
    • Hopelessness
  3. Prune
    • If you’re experiencing some of those warning signs, you may be doing too much. Dr. Martinez recommends a combination of choosing and changing to deal with this problem.
      • Choosing, he says, often comes down to a decision “between the good and the best.” These decisions can be hard, but they are necessary.
      • Some situations require dramatic changes, but often subtle ones make a big difference. For example, “Fatigue is often caused by poor organization in the areas of time and administration…. Small changes in these areas can eventually bring forth big outcomes.”
  1. Renew yourself, using…
    • Relationships with your friends, family, and church
    • Time in nature
    • Books
    • Anything else that restores you (you know yourself best, so follow your instincts)

These renewal activities don’t have to be big, time-consuming productions. Here are a few easy ways I’ve practiced renewal:

  • Relationships: Sometimes I bring a friend along while doing errands. It’s more fun than solo errands, and I get to spend time with a loved one without losing a potentially productive chunk of the day.
  • Nature: There’s a garden between my work and my home. I can stop by on my way home from work, walk through it to see what’s new, and be back on the road in 20 minutes. It’s a potent but quick way to connect with creation.
  • Books: I read before bed. If it’s already bedtime, I keep it to 10 or 15 minutes, which is long enough to say I did it but not long enough to sabotage my sleep.
  • Other: I enjoy cooking, especially when there are going to be leftovers. That way I feel like I’m doubly taking care of myself: through the activity itself and through the preparation of food that’s going to provide easy meals for a few days. (Sometimes self-care and chores overlap. Other times taking a break from chores is taking care of yourself. Use your best judgment.)
  1. Rely on your relationship with God, which “provides the main spring of fresh water in our renewal.”

DON’T:

  1. Be a perfectionist

Dr. Martinez says that perfectionism is more often internal pressure—which we put on ourselves—than external pressure, which comes from other people. The flaw of perfectionism is that “its driving force is not ethical discernment but fear of failure and the need to please others. Neither of these are good motivations and, paradoxically, they can be a constraint instead of a stimulus in the Christian ministry.” Martinez goes on to suggest a solution: “The best antidote to perfectionism is God’s grace. Grasping the soothing balm of grace changes the pressure of perfectionism into the serene conviction that the grace of God reaches where we cannot.”

  1. Try to do too much

We talked about this a little with pruning, but it’s worth reiterating that taking on too much harms us and our ability to complete our work well.

It’s easy to have many roles you’re enthusiastic about, or many tasks that seemingly no one else can do, but doing too much leaves you vulnerable to mistakes, and it is important—both for yourself and for those who rely on you—that you only take on as much as you can do well without compromising your mental, emotional, or physical health.

  1. Be driven by success

Martinez points out that God does not call us to success. Instead, he calls us to bear fruit, which is “primarily a matter of growing into the image of Christ…. The texts which refer to our fruit as Christians emphasize character rather than action.” So if you’re driven by the hope of earthly success or achievement, it might be time to reevaluate your motivations and make sure your focus is on God and his plans, not on yourself and yours.

  1. Be hasty

This quote from Martinez sums it up: “If you drive a car too fast, you are more likely to have an accident. The same thing happens with the driving of our life.”

  1. Give up

Dr. Martinez has a lot of great advice, and it’s going to take time and effort to implement it—to figure out which issues plague you most, what you can do about them, what makes you feel most renewed, etc. Even when you have a plan for your self-care and you’re working to execute it, the process will be slow and nonlinear. There will be nights that you don’t get enough sleep, weeks when you laugh at the idea of a Sabbath, and times that you say yes when you should say no, skip your renewal activities, feel like there’s nothing you can drop, or rush through your tasks.

But the warning against perfectionism applies to self-care too. You won’t figure out how to take care of yourself immediately or do a good job all the time, and that’s okay. Start by accepting that self-care is necessary, and make slow, incremental progress from there. When you backslide into overwork or feel burnout nipping at your heels, don’t give up. Taking care of yourself isn’t always easy, but it is part of God’s plan for you.

Remember:

Taking care of yourself isn’t something you’re supposed to do alone, or in your own power. As he concludes, Martinez writes, “Authentic care of yourself and real wellbeing can never be fully achieved by your own effort (self-help) apart from God’s truth and his abundant life in Christ.” Approach self-care prayerfully, allowing God to help you. His aid will empower you to help others in turn.


Tirzah Frank is an Assistant Editor at Hendrickson Publishers. She has a BA in English from Salem State University. In her spare time, she writes novels about dragons and eats an alarming number of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.


For more information about Take Care of Yourself: Survive and Thrive in Christian Ministryvisit our website!

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