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The Weight of Stress in Ministry

Women are three times as likely to experience depression.

Each person in leadership has a certain amount of stress. Stress can’t be avoided completely. However, when stress is unmanaged, it can lead to serious health problems. The impact on our health may include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, headaches, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, stomach upset, and sleep problems.

Not only does it affect us physically, but when stress goes unchecked, it can affect our mental health, too, causing anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, and sadness or depression. Our behavior can be impacted as well, and we find ourselves overeating or undereating, having angry outbursts, abusing drugs or alcohol, using tobacco, and becoming socially isolated.

Depression is a major mental health issue for women. Catherine Weber, PhD, writes in her article “Women and Depression” from Christian Counseling Today: “Women are three times as likely as men to be impacted by major depression and dysthymia, starting in adolescence and peaking between the ages of 25 and 45, during the childbearing years.” There are many causes of depression, but stress can be a major trigger.

The symptoms of depression range from feeling sad for no particular reason to feeling numb. You feel like your emotional reserves are depleted and your physical energy is low. You may have a lack of interest in things you used to find enjoyable. You feel like isolating yourself from the world. You may overeat or do just the opposite and lose your appetite. You may feel fatigue and just want to curl up in a ball and sleep all day. You may feel anxious, easily irritated, and not able to concentrate.

Seek Help Without Shame

If this list describes you, there is hope. First, you need to find a qualified, licensed Christian therapist to develop a therapy schedule. Your therapist may refer you to a psychiatrist to evaluate your need for an antidepressant medication. But navigating depression involves more than a weekly therapy session and medication. The best results come from a comprehensive approach, which includes exercise and nutrition, rest, strategies for monitoring stress, and therapeutic and spiritual exercises to help you rediscover meaning and purpose for your life.

I write about depression not only from professional experience; it’s very personal for me. I have dysthymia, a mild but long-term form of depression. Dysthymia is chronic and lasts at least two years or longer. About a year after our daughter was born, I found myself feeling sad for no apparent reason. If you were to look at my circumstances, there wasn’t any reason for the overwhelming heaviness I was experiencing. We were doing well financially. Our children were happy and healthy. We were involved in a great church with wonderful friends. We were building our first house, but I wasn’t able to get myself out of the prevailing dark mood I was experiencing. And my feelings felt familiar. I had battled these feelings since I was a child, but now I had three children to care for, and the feelings of sadness were becoming unmanageable.

May23, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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