With this year’s Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10th being focussed on mental health in the workplace – how many people will be considering the experience of care, church leaders, care and community workers? For people whose workplace is their community and caring for others, making time and space to support their own wellbeing can have its own difficulties.
Livability recently ran a training day on personal, church and community wellbeing for people in such vocations. Held at Livability’s wellbeing discovery centre in Poole, the day gathered a range of pepole together for discussion, activities and reflection.
Elizabeth Harrison, Livability’s Happiness and Wellbeing Co-ordinator reflects on the day and suggests some principles and ways that church leaders, care and community workers can improve their own wellbeing.
It’s easy to think about mental health as something to do with crisis intervention, only for those who have a diagnosable illness. But just as we make lifestyle changes to support our physical health even when we’re not sick, we can all look after our mental health by attending to our holistic, whole-self wellbeing.
Each participant in our training day had brought along a photo that represents wellbeing to them. As we discussed and captioned these photos, it was clear that what constituted a perfect day for some would not satisfy others – a mix of crowds or people and solitude, a quiet country pub, a dog on the beach, a house full of people. We are all different in our preferences and temperaments, so working out what sorts of things refresh and sustain you will be a first task on the way to greater wellbeing.
Having established the elements we need to support our wellbeing, getting our diaries to match them is somewhat trickier. Many church workers have a six day week, lack the funds for extravagant holidays, and are constantly under pressure to be there for people. It’s easy to get to the end of a frantic few months and wonder where the time has gone.
Stewarding time well, in the same way we’d write a budget for spending money, is unusual. But prioritising what’s important to you and building a pattern of life that is basically sustainable and live-giving is well worth it, and necessary if we’re going to go the distance.
Here are some ways to put the ‘big things’ in:
Start with the basics: a good night’s sleep, some exercise, regular mealtimes, time for keeping our house in order. Church buffets are wonderful, but be aware of the need for good nutrition too.
Prioritise the relationships you need to: time with God, with a spouse or family members, or with a best friend is vitally important. For introverts, this may also mean diarising alone time and sticking to it!
Block out time to be refreshed:that three month sabbatical, or week at a retreat centre will not fall into place by accident.
Spoonfuls of sugar:Not literally. But if there are days that look dreary, look ahead creatively and see if that pastoral meeting can combine with a walk in the park.
In a culture where overwork is congratulated, and burnout is common, sticking to the conviction that we are valued not because of what we can do, that we find our rest in God, is an extraordinary message and will make people curious.
Church leaders don’t have to have it all sorted before they can help other people, but journeying alongside people as they improve their own wellbeing does require you to be taking an active role in your own self-care.
Looking after ourselves is a celebration of our own contingency – God delights in sharing His work with us and including us in it. An approach to work which puts it in its proper place sets the tone for a life lived with confidence, showing others that we are trusting God to equip us for the work we are being called to do.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matt 11:28-30 The Message
The idea of adding “wellbeing” to an already bulging to-do list may fill you with dread. But it needn’t involve radical changes. Livability’s “It All Adds Up” pledge encourages people to use the New Economics Foundation’s “Five ways to wellbeing” to incorporate wellbeing into their daily life. https://www.livability.org.uk/pledge/