Often, our lives in youth ministry seem like a never-ending whirlwind of activity. With deadlines on the one hand, and student athletic events/school activities on the other, most youth workers are caught in a perpetual motion machine of doing, going, and giving too much. Studies continue to show an unequal division of conjugal labour, a situation most of us understand only too readily. We also tend to feel the dual burden of the pressure to be both “perfect youth workers and husbands/wives” due to the often unrealistic expectations from our faith communities. Juggling multiple roles at home, work, and within the community, youth workers are consummate caretakers, workers, volunteers, and friends. What we aren’t so good at, however, is self-care. If you’re finding it difficult to let go of the guilt and strike up a balance in your life, this is an important article for you.
As youth workers, we tend to dismiss how significant it is to find time for ourselves. Caring for yourself is a necessity, not a privilege. The fallout of a constant go-go-go state of being can be dangerous as failing to make time for ourselves takes its toll, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Most youth workers, especially paid staff, are quick to cut corners on three of the most critical elements of our health and well-being: diet and exercise, sleep and mental health. However, it is when we’re dealing with a hectic schedule that it is important to think about how much of ourselves are we giving away. Here are some ways to bring your energy back and create a balance between mind and body.
EAT WELL! Make nutritious dinners ahead of time, add apples and carrot sticks to your lunch, and choose cholesterol-reduced recipes for your heart health. Yet, how many of us rely on a constant stream of IV caffeine and chocolate bars for an energy boost while rushing through the daily grind? By heeding this nutritional advice you likely have enough energy to tackle your objectives for the day without the inevitable crash and you’ll be setting an example for the youth you lead. Pack-lunching it is both economical and ensures you’ll be fuelling your mind and body with the proper nutrients it needs to get through the day. Keep a stash of healthy snacks like almonds in your office to keep your blood sugar stable and avoid late-night overeating. Set aside twenty minutes of your lunch for a brisk walk and make a point of stretching once an hour. The effects of short spurts of exercise are more invigorating and longer-lasting than those of your favourite caffeine-loaded latte.
LIGHTS OUT! Fatigue. It’s probably the most oft-cited complaint of the youth worker. I know. How many times have you skimped on sleep to go to an early morning meeting, or taken that late night call over a break-up after a long day, or had to watch over your own feverish child at 3am? Sleep deprivation causes irritability, diminished concentration, high blood pressure, and depression, so by building up a sleep debt, we are essentially hindering our ability to get things done. Before you affect your efficiency, try to keep your Blackberries away and shut down your computer a few hours before bedtime. Working late into the night not only leaves your brain over-stimulated, but it sets you up for a night of tossing and turning if you’re preoccupied with tomorrow’s to-do list.
INVEST IN YOURSELF! Achieving a work-life balance is one of the biggest challenges we face. When we neglect “me-time”, we run the risk of losing ourselves and stifling our souls. So, it’s time to lose the guilt and invest in a balanced lifestyle. Pencil in a monthly brunch with someone that you don’t have to perform for, or hire a babysitter for an afternoon and indulge in a silent retreat at a local monastery or get an extra hour of sleep. Set yourself free from controlling everything and admit to yourself that God is actually in charge of your ministry and that we are not controller of the stars.. Whether it is a hobby, an exercise or a tempting meal with glass of wine, go through relaxation activities that work best for you.
Instead of allowing the “shoulds” to dictate your schedule, realize that reflection and self-care are necessary in keeping the balance in our “round the clock” lives. Scheduling some time with a spiritual director can help you become more aware of and practice the presence of God in an otherwise busy life without feeling bad about it. Because, we are not the Savior. He is in control and He loves us and our students infinitely more than we can or ever could. Rest in that knowledge today.