Understanding Stress

“Understanding Stress,” Adjusting to Missionary Life (2013), 5–10


Stress Is a Normal Part of Life

As you begin any new experience (like joining the Church or attending a new school), you feel excited about the opportunity—and nervous because you don’t know quite what to expect. Over time you learn to meet these challenges, and you grow in the process.

Missions are no different. Sometimes a mission feels like a wonderful spiritual adventure—or at least a challenge you can handle. You calmly move forward with faith, realizing that much of the nervousness or worry you experience is temporary. You take courage in knowing you will adjust with time, grow spiritually, and develop many new skills. Experiences you once feared become more manageable. You even come to cherish aspects of missionary life that once felt overwhelming. You rely on the Spirit, grow in confidence, and find joy in your service.

At other times, however, you may face unexpected problems or experiences that are more difficult or unpleasant than you anticipated. You might wonder how you can succeed. Resources you once relied on to help you cope may not be available. Instead of feeling motivated to try, you might become anxious, irritable, exhausted, or frustrated. You might have physical symptoms like pain, upset stomach, sleeplessness, or illness. You could have trouble learning or connecting with people. You might feel discouraged or want to quit.

Like gauges on a car’s dashboard that remind you to slow down, get gas, or check the engine, these symptoms are signals to remind you to slow down, fill up your spiritual “tank,” and look for new solutions. This booklet has suggestions and tools that may help.

Four Levels of Stress

Stress is not always bad. In fact, stress is a normal physical and emotional response to the changes and challenges of life and is necessary for growth. But experiencing too much stress for too long without a break can lead to problems.

As you work to manage your stress effectively, it may help to think of four levels of experiencing stress.

Signs You Are at This Level

What to Do

drawing of missionary

GREEN

Confident, happy

Ready to meet challenges

Recover quickly from setbacks

Getting along with your companion

Feel the Spirit

This is the ideal. Here you are handling the everyday stressors of missionary work, learning, and progressing.

Continue to work hard and trust in the Lord.

drawing of missionary

YELLOW

Tense, worried, insecure, anxious, unprepared

Trouble getting along with others

Difficulty feeling the Spirit

It is normal to spend some time at the yellow level.

Being kind to yourself as you cope with challenges and learn new skills will help you become stronger and increase your ability to serve. Continue to pray and serve in faith. Look to the scriptures and conference talks, your district and zone leaders, and this booklet for help.

drawing of missionary

ORANGE

Exhausted (physically and emotionally)

Ill (e.g., upset stomach)

Easily angered

Deeply discouraged

Inability to feel the Spirit

No one enjoys being at an orange level of stress, but this is rarely permanent.

Pray for guidance as you study scriptures and apply the suggestions in this booklet. Let your mission president know if you stay at the orange level for more than three days, so he can help.

drawing of missionary

RED

Persistent depression, panic, or anxiety

Hopelessness

Trouble eating or sleeping (can lead to illness)

Overwhelmed; inability to continue

Feel as though you have been abandoned by God

If you are at this level, contact your mission president for help.

Ask your companion or district leader for a priesthood blessing. Consider taking some time to write in your journal, ponder the suggestions in this book, pray, and perhaps take a break from the things you find most difficult about missionary work until you have a chance to speak with your mission president.

Demands of Missionary Work

Serving “with all your heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2) will bless you greatly. Missionary work is not easy. The demands of missionary work fall into several categories:

balance scales

Demands

Learning Challenging Material

Getting Along with People

Rules

Expectations

Leaving Comfort Zone

Resources

Holy Ghost

Support from Other People

New Skills

Make a Plan

Prayer

Diet & Exercise

Change How We Think

Scriptures

Work

The Atonement

General (see pages 17–22). You experience many changes and transitions throughout your mission. Familiar ways of coping are not always available, and you must learn new ones. Evenings and weekends that used to be relaxing are now your busiest times. You may feel awkward. At times you may struggle. You may wonder how to help other missionaries who struggle.

Physical (see pages 23–28). You may be on your feet 11–12 hours a day, walking, biking, climbing stairs, and standing. You may not get as much sleep as you are used to. The food may be unfamiliar. You will be out in bad weather and exposed to new germs. Just the newness of the situation can be fatiguing.

Emotional (see pages 29–34). You may feel anxious about all you have to do, and you may have trouble unwinding. You may get homesick, become discouraged, get bored, or feel lonely. You may face rejection, disappointment, or even danger. You may worry about family and friends when you are not there to help them.

Social (see pages 35–39). You will live in close quarters with a companion with whom you may or may not have much in common. You are expected to talk to strangers, interact with Church leaders, get to know Church members quickly, and learn to love investigators.

Intellectual (see pages 41–43). You may be learning a new language. You will need to master lessons and scriptures, acquire teaching skills, and resolve concerns that arise. You will need to plan, manage goals, adapt to changes, and solve all kinds of practical problems.

Spiritual (see pages 45–49). You will stretch to strengthen your testimony, resist temptation, and learn to feel and recognize the Spirit. You will need to take correction, repent, face your weaknesses and regrets humbly, and rely on the Lord more than ever before.

Resources to Help You Stay in Balance

When you have resources to meet the demands of missionary work, you grow and contribute and you stay in the green level. Sometimes you can achieve this balance by reducing unnecessary demands, such as unrealistic self-expectations or worrying about what others think. However, many of the demands of a mission cannot be reduced. You will need to learn new material, get along with other people, obey rules, teach and testify, and leave your comfort zone.

You can still stay in balance by increasing your resources to meet these demands. Some of the most important resources for meeting the demands of missionary work are prayer, scripture study, the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and serving others. Additional resources include Preach My Gospel, help from mission leaders, and many others found in this booklet.

Using these resources will enable you to rely on the Savior Jesus Christ and His Atonement. He is the ultimate source of help in dealing with the demands and stresses of missionary life.

Look unto Me

Good Shepherd

Remember, our Heavenly Father loves you. Trust in Him and in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to heal and redeem you. God has a perfect plan for His imperfect children; this is the good news you carry to the world. Remember these promises: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you.

“Fear not to do good, … for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.

“Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.

“Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.

“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.

“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven” (D&C 6:32–37).