Holistic Self-Care as a Youth Minister

It must have been a Tuesday. On Tuesdays each week, I ran Edge. And preparing for 120 middle schoolers was no joke, so I often felt stretched thin.

That day, in particular, I was sitting in my car, gulping down a diet coke and repeating how much I had to do in my head. I was probably skipping another meal to convince myself that I needed to be caught up on email and projects and falling into the trap that I “looked” the part of the over-caffeinated, but Jesus lovin’ youth minister, you could see on this new thing called Instagram.

Every day, the parish office closed from 12-1, so everyone on staff could sit and enjoy lunch and be in community. I, however, was always “too busy” to stop my day and sit for a full hour. So instead, you’d find me munching on a granola bar or the occasional taco bell while rushing around the campus. I had fallen into this trap that wasting time wasn’t something I would do because of how crazy ministry was.

The day that I realized I was living with unhealthy boundaries, which led to poorly caring for my whole self, was on the Fourth of July. The office was closed, but my husband and I took our one-year-old to Mass and headed over to the school playground afterward. “I’m just going to pop into my office for a minute….” 35 minutes later, I was still sitting at my desk.

Not only did I fail at caring for my body nutritionally, but I’d quickly get lost in my day and forget to prioritize prayer. You guys! I had an adoration chapel steps from my office door, so what made it so hard to make the time to be with Jesus? If I didn’t hold myself to this perfect standard, I’d just let the ball drop more quickly. “Oh, I didn’t make it to the chapel last week, so I guess this is my new expectation of myself.”

There were days when my overwhelming feeling would win over any invitation to a social gathering with others outside of youth ministers. Maybe “I wanted to be invited, but I certainly was not going” became the mantra. However, those outside relationships are necessary for keeping healthy boundaries and not being on 24/7/365.

No doubt, ministry was full and non-stop each week. There were so many teens and middle schoolers to serve at our Life and Edge Nights through our relational ministry outreach, and of course, the events and ministry hats I wore with everything in between! Seasons would ebb and flow, but you could often find me caught up in the “busyness,” forgetting about the other ways to take care of myself in ministry.

The crazy thing is, I would find myself surrounded by other youth ministers who would crack the same jokes – all of them at our own expense – about how we were the type of people who eat terribly, survive on coffee and the late-night drinks when we’re stressed out, and the martyrdom of running on little sleep. “Picture perfect” of a youth minister crushing it.

Wait, what?!? After living in that backward state, here’s what I wish someone shared with me when I was deep in the full seasons of ministry!

  • Caffeine is good; water is better. Try this tomorrow – Coffee, Water, Repeat.
  • Eat good food for your body! If your car still smells like pizza from last Sunday’s Life Night, it’s a slight nudge to eat something green. And toss out the crushing a diet coke in the car madness – attempt to be in community when you eat meals.
  • Move your body without shame or pressure. Choose to do it, so you feel good. Listen to a podcast or audiobook while you do. Multi-task for the win!
  • Waste time! Sit with people. Yes, even for an hour when the parish office is closed for lunch. Go out with people outside of the ministry world when you have an inbox overflowing with tasks and make yourself talk about things other than work! Take a vacation day on a random Tuesday instead of working your fun/off time around the ministry calendar.
  • Accountability! If someone asks how they can help, consider requesting a home-cooked meal from them for the long days and nights you’re up at the parish. Ask someone to text you how your prayer time has been that day to remind you to get into the chapel. Find someone living with greater balance and ask them to bring you along while you build out your new routines.
  • Your mind is vital! Evaluate your mental health needs consistently and take action where needed. Sleep, journal, jump off social media for a week, and set up an appointment with a therapist if you’d like! Read something unrelated to ministry, watch a comedian and laugh until you have tears streaming down your face.

Take inventory of how you’re doing in these areas today: Your Physical, Social, Emotional/Mental Health. Then grab something from the list above and develop a few ways you can adjust starting this month. Let’s be ministers who strive to serve others well and give our best because we are committed to taking care of ourselves holistically.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@jontyson?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText”>Jon Tyson on Unsplash