General Principles for Managing Stress

“General Principles for Managing Stress,” Adjusting to Missionary Life (2013), 17–22


This section contains general suggestions for preventing and coping with excessive stress. These suggestions can be helpful to all missionaries.

A

Responding Positively to Stress

  • Pray fervently and often, alone and with your companion. Tell the Lord about your feelings, experiences, plans, and concerns. Ask the Spirit to be with you in all things. Write down impressions you receive as you pray and study the scriptures. Be alert to guidance you may receive throughout the day. As you hearken to the voice of the Spirit, you will continue to receive additional guidance, comfort, and help. “For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5). Commit to the Lord that you will do your best to always follow spiritual promptings you receive.

  • Recognize the hand of the Lord in all things. You have a front row seat to the greatest miracle of all: the effect of Christ’s Atonement on individuals and families. Practice focusing every day on blessings you are grateful for. Notice the Spirit’s influence in your life, and write about it. (See Moroni 10:3.)

  • Identify and memorize comforting scriptures. As you study, list scriptures that strengthen and comfort you. Memorize them or read them often.

  • Focus on the needs of those you are serving. Think about what you can do to bless the investigators you are teaching and the members you are serving. Seek inspiration on how you can serve them and strengthen their faith.

  • Sing. Memorize the words to a few of your favorite hymns. When you are feeling stressed or discouraged, sing to yourself or with your companion. “Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace” (“First Presidency Preface,” Hymns [1985], x).

  • Remember what you’ve learned. You have been coping successfully with change and difficulty your whole life. During personal study time, list what you have learned from past transitions and periods of high stress (like adjusting to the MTC). How can you apply these skills now? “Remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3).

  • Serve from your strengths. Make a list of your strengths, talents, and spiritual gifts. Your strengths are part of the Lord’s storehouse, from which He draws to bless His children and build His kingdom. A crucial part of your mission is to cultivate your gifts and consecrate your strengths to help others come to Christ. Focus more on what you do well than on what you do wrong. Plan ways each week to develop and use your gifts to serve and bless others (see D&C 82:18–19).

  • Befriend your companion. Share ideas, serve each other, help each other, and forgive each other. Friends are a great resource for dealing with stress. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

  • Examine your expectations. Don’t expect everything to turn out the way you hoped. You will not do everything perfectly. Not every missionary will be totally obedient and kind. Your investigators may receive anti-Mormon misinformation. You may never speak the language like a native. Remember the Lord’s counsel to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail: “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. … Therefore, hold on” (D&C 122:7, 9).

  • Exercise. Regular exercise is one effective way to manage stress. Choose to participate in a variety of activities that are both enjoyable and physically challenging. As you focus on the activity at hand, you may find yourself energized and better able to forget the worries of the day. Regardless of the activity you choose, exercise can help increase your stamina and capacity to serve the Lord. (See Preach My Gospel, viii.)

  • Don’t try to control things you cannot. While you will make your best effort to meet your proselyting goals, the outcome of your effort is dependent on the agency of others, which you cannot force. “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17).

  • Remember the importance of rest and relaxation. For example, use the progressive relaxation exercise (see right) at night to slow down and relax before bed, or the breathing exercise (see left). Plan preparation days to include time to rest, enjoy, and unwind so you will be refreshed for the week to come. In addition to necessary activities like shopping and writing home, try:

    • Cultural activities. Visit historical sites, museums, or local festivals.

    • Social activities. Participate with others in sports, games, art, meals, or appropriate music.

    • Time in nature. Visit parks or nature preserves or go hiking.

    • Rest and reflection. Take a nap, meditate, or write about your feelings.

“And [Jesus] said unto [His disciples], Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going,
and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31).

“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).

B

Responding to a “Stress Emergency”

A stress emergency occurs when you suddenly move into the orange or red stress zones. If you are in physical or emotional danger, call your mission president immediately. For other situations, try the following suggestions:

  • Take a short break. If you feel very upset or overstressed, take a break. Take several slow, deep breaths, stretch, and relax physically. When your body and mind are calm again, you will be able to think more clearly. Take a walk with your companion, get some food or a drink, or just sit and think for a few minutes.

  • Be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself with the same kind, comforting words you would use with someone else. Everyone gets frustrated or makes mistakes sometimes. Know that the Lord understands. Imagine Him sitting close to you, listening and offering support. Remember, thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness, or harsh condemnation are not from the Lord.

  • Refocus on gratitude. Notice what is around you. Focus for a few minutes on what is right, good, and positive about yourself and the world. Offer a prayer of gratitude for at least five specific things.

  • Take one step at a time. Identify the immediate problem, and take one step at a time to solve it. Remind yourself, “All I have to do right now is ____.” For example, “All I have to do right now is wait for the bus.” or “All I have to do right now is find this address.”

  • Help someone else. Refocus your energy by serving someone else. Smile at people, help them out, and offer service. (See Preach My Gospel, 168–69.)

  • Talk back to negative thinking. Right now, or before bed tonight, list your negative thoughts from today on paper; then rewrite them to be more hopeful, truthful, and encouraging (see example on right).

C

Helping Other Missionaries Who Are Overstressed

  • Notice missionaries who are struggling. Let them know that you understand they are struggling. Assure them that you will do the work with them and that with the Lord’s help, you can succeed together. If appropriate, suggest they take a short break, such as taking a walk with their companion, getting a change of scenery, or changing to a less stressful activity if possible. Pray for help silently or with the missionary.

  • Think of your baptismal covenant. We promise “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; … mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times” (Mosiah 18:8–9). Apply this covenant by (1) sharing the missionary’s burden, (2) offering empathy and comfort, and (3) testifying of God’s love.

  • Ask a few questions, but don’t force the missionary to talk. Try, “You seem upset. What happened?” or “Would you be willing to tell me about it?”

  • Listen to understand and offer support and encouragement. Until a person feels understood, offering advice and suggesting solutions is often not helpful. Ask questions and help the person find his or her own answers. While you should not take on the role of counselor with investigators or missionaries of the opposite sex, you can be an empathetic listener who helps and supports other missionaries. (See Preach My Gospel, 185–86.)

    elder missionaries studying
  • Focus on what needs to be decided right now. Sidestep big issues (such as, “I’m not sure I even have a testimony”), and focus on the immediate decisions to be made (“For now, let’s just decide how we want to handle this next lesson”). Offer to help (“I can bear my testimony this time”). When things have calmed down, come back to the bigger problem and look for solutions (“What do you think a testimony is? How does a person get one? What have you tried? Where could we get more ideas?”). Remind the missionary that the Lord can help with solutions over time if we do what we can and then turn it over to Him.

  • Remind the missionary of what he or she does well. (“I really appreciate your integrity and your desire to serve God.”)

  • Bear your testimony. Share your conviction of God’s love and willingness to help.

  • Be wise as you minister to others. Yours is a holy office. Be trustworthy, keep confidences, and always stay with your companion.

  • Let your mission president know if the situation does not improve.