Transitions in life can take you beyond your stress thresh-hold. In Roy Oswald's book New Beginnings: A Pastorate Start Up Workbook part of his advice to ministers in a new work regards coping with the stress of transition. While some of the advice may be unique to ministers, much of it can apply to anyone.
In addition to moving, injury, and changes in job, financial status, or living conditions, stress is also produced by changes in marital status, the death of a loved one, retirement, celebration of holidays, a new addition to the family, or even by an outstanding personal achievement. You might need some coping strategies if any of this has been among your recent experience.
So what follows are coping strategies from Oswald, embellished by Yours Truly, and in no particular order:
1) Don't make more radical changes. Having just been through a major transition, this is not a good time to start a new diet, change your sleeping patterns, or enroll for a university course. Give yourself some recovery time before launching into anything new.
2) Be good to yourself. Now there is a difference between being good to yourself and self-indulgence. The latter can destroy your health, while the former can preserve your sanity. So take in a movie, have a favorite desert, or read for recreation.
3) Stabilize the Family Structure. Follow up a major transition by spending more and not less time with family. You will not not function well if they have difficulty adjusting. Family rituals are one way to help with stability. In our family, we observe a weekly "popcorn-and-a-movie" night. It's usually Friday, but is sometimes made up on Saturday. Each week we watch something "family friendly." It might be Don Knotts, Shirley Temple, Roy Rogers, or Jerry Lewis. But we do this religiously even if we're in a motel with a portable DVD player and microwave popcorn.
4) Exercise. Having a foot in two towns I've fallen down on this one, but I've taken some small steps lately. I recently stopped by Wal-Mart and bought a basketball. While I could spend my work breaks indulging in more caffeine, I now go out to the church parking lot and take a "hoops break." It's a real stress reliever. A two mile walk in the evening doesn't hurt either.
5) Have a Support System. Keep up with friends by e-mail or telephone. Find some members of the church family in whom you can confide. With ministers it is often safer if those support systems are out-of-town (at least at first). I once heard a wise man compare a preacher who expects his needs to be met by the congregation to a doctor who expects his needs to be met by his patients. While some mutual ministry will likely happen, a minister is not there so the church can minister to him. He is there to minister to the church.
6) Ease into things. As Oswald states, it is tempting to bust a gut in the first six months of ministry until you settle into a routine. Avoid this temptation. Your first order of business is to get to know the members of the congregation. Know their needs. Know where they live. Visit them on their own turf, invite people over, and have lunch with the heads of the households. If I had past ministries to do over, I would have done far more of this sooner as I am doing now.
Oswald states that in the first few months you are little more than lover and historian. It is not the time to initiate new programs or make sweeping reforms. Get to know folks individually and learn how the congregation functions as a group.
7) Spend your first Sunday in the pew as a visitor. My current position is the only church where I have been able to do that. It gave me an opportunity to view the congregation through the eyes of a visitor. And I'm glad I did since I heard a great sermon on Habakkuk and just what I needed at the time.
8) If possible, take some time between transitions. It was healthy for me to take a vacation between my ministries in Illinois and Kansas. And it was healthy to have time off from the ministry before beginning my latest job. Preaching a farewell sermon one Sunday and a sermon at your new congregation the next does not allow any recovery time.
So there you are. Preacher or not, I hope some of this is helpful.