Pastors are not immune from worry and anxiety: an upcoming board meeting, disgruntled members, family issues, church finances—the list goes on and on.
Science confirms the link between mind-set and disease: “A person’s psychological state is a prominent factor in health.”1 “Attitude, social networks, and a healthy diet are woven together in their importance for physical and mental health.”2
Attitudes such as forgiveness, faith, optimism, happiness, and perseverance lower stress and, along with trust in God, are linked with a reduced risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, infection, ill health, and countless stress-related conditions. They also lessen the severity of illness and speed recovery when illness occurs.3
A steady state of worry, hostility, unforgiveness, hopelessness, grief, and depression increases the risk of infection, inflammatory conditions, and disease, and slows recovery from sickness.4 Many factors contribute to disease, and even those with a positive outlook on life get sick. Nevertheless, a positive mindset is as important to good health as exercise and diet.
Do you worry about various issues? Practicing the following seven suggestions may help tip your mental scales toward the positive side of life:
1. Smile. Smiling is free—but its benefits are priceless. Doing so lowers stress hormones in the brain, and may power up the body’s immune system.
2. Express gratitude. People who express gratitude tend to live longer, healthier lives. Mentally rehearsing or writing a list of daily blessings is a powerful buffer against mental depression and physical illness.
3. Focus on the positives. Continually ruminating over sad events or worrisome thoughts is linked to many kinds of depression. Do you control your attitude, or does it control you? Concentrating on positive solutions and opportunities will help reduce negative thinking.
4. Forgive. Harboring anger and grudges hurts you by increasing stress hormones, blood pressure, and triggering other physical ailments. An act may not be excusable, but it is forgivable. Forgiving allows you to let the injury go. The healing spirit of forgiveness is a gift that God bestows to all who ask.
5. Don’t give up. Successful people are not mistake free—they just refuse to give up. Each one of us can change, learn, and improve. Persevere in spite of challenges and failures. Be inspired by the success of others and learn from criticism. Building a more resilient, wholesome attitude will put the oil of enthusiasm back into the mechanics of everyday life.
6. Nurture your brain and body. Nutrition and lifestyle powerfully affect brain function, mood, memory, and learning. Eating whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and beans has long-term mood- and brain-boosting effects that no snack cake can rival! Drinking water instead of caffeinated and sugary beverages improves alertness naturally. Adequate rest is essential for resisting fatigue, irritability, and temptations. And daily exercise, especially in the sunshine and fresh air, has a calming, stress-lowering effect often more powerful than antidepressants.
7. Help others. Offer to help someone in some way. It takes less than a minute to open a door for someone, but these little courtesies help others while boosting your own health and relieve depression. Many studies demonstrate that those who spend regular time helping others in service not only cut their overall risk of death, but also improve their quality of life.
Chronic worry, anxiety, and fear are the opposite of trust. Trust in God is the most potent weapon against mental and physical problems. As a pastor, you frequently invite others to place their trust in God; He extends that same compelling, personal invitation to you for each day’s challenges: “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8, NKJV).
1 David Beaton, “Effects of Stress and Psychological Disorders on the Immune System” (Rochester Institute of Technology, November 2003), www.personalityresearch.org/papers /beaton.html.
2 Kathryn O. Tacy, “The Role of Prior Protective Factors,” peer review of David Beaton, “Effects of Stress and Psychological Disorders on the Immune System” (Rochester Institute of Technology, November 2003), www.personalityresearch.org /papers/beaton.html.
4 Robert Ader, Psychoneuroimmunology (Burlington, MA: Elsevier Press, 2007), 766.