Managing stress naturally

Ministry and personal demands sometimes seem never ending. Life leaves us drained, tired, and stressed. But God has created our bodies to produce natural hormones, such as serotonin. Serotonin, or the “happy hormone,” is a chemical in our brain that helps us stay balanced physically and emotionally.1 Here, I consider things that reduce our serotonin levels and things that help to naturally enhance them.

The following deplete our serotonin:

  • Stress. Stress can mean different things to different people. Any activity—even simply meeting someone new or falling in love—causes adrenaline, or the “emergency hormone,” to flow. Adrenaline keeps us on high alert, lowering our serotonin.
  • Cortisone. Exciting and pleasure-seeking activities produce large amounts of cortisone, the “stress hormone.” Even seemingly benign activities, such as video gaming and riding a roller coaster can generate cortisone. Cortisone lowers serotonin, making us “unhappy, anxious, and less calm.”2
  • Passivity. Under-assertiveness or a tendency to “grin and bear it” causes hostility and frustration, leading to high levels of stress. Christians particularly struggle with assertiveness because they fear they will be perceived as being selfish or aggressive.
  • Lack of sleep. Insufficient sleep is a chronic problem in life, especially for those in ministry. “One of the challenges of ministry is that . . . we need to be with people when people are free to be with us. That may mean evenings and weekends. So it’s not easy to be in full control of our sleep patterns.”3

Here are some helpful hints to build up your serotonin:

  • Set boundaries. Set boundaries between your ministry and the rest of your life. “Our body needs to ‘be told’ when there is an emergency and when there isn’t one. Therefore, be clear in your mind whether you are working or relaxing.”4
  • Avoid excess adrenaline. Avoid generating too much adrenaline even for hobbies. “Too much adrenaline will kill you in the long run because . . . [adrenaline] is the high-octane gasoline or petrol of your body . . . high-octane engines don’t last very long. They are designed for short bursts of high speed and then they must be replaced.”5
  • Be assertive. Exercise appropriate assertiveness.6 A rule of thumb for assertiveness is that if it brings healing rather than offense, you are being “correctly” assertive.
  • Get sufficient sleep. Sleep is one of the most important ways we can fight the damaging effects of stress. It not only produces more serotonin, but also “is a powerful stress reducer, . . . [It] calms and restores the body, improves concentration, regulates mood, and sharpens judgment and decision-making.”7
  • Take a walk in the sunshine. We get vitamin D from exposing our skin to the sun, and vitamin D boosts serotonin levels. Physical exercise not only increases our serotonin, it also releases the other “happy” chemicals, dopamine and endorphins. 8

When you need emotional help, it’s not wrong to go check with a health professional. But you can help manage your emotions by increasing your serotonin naturally. These steps will not just help you do better emotionally by increasing serotonin, they will also help you stay physically and spiritually healthy.


1. BrainMD Life, “4 Ways to Boost Your Serotonin,” November 1, 2016, www.brainmdhealth.com/blog/4-ways-to-boost-your-serotonin/

2. Brady Salcido, “Top 5 Strategies to Hack Your Happy Brain Chemicals,” March 12, 2018, https://medium.com/@drbradysalcido/top-5-strategies-to-hack-your-happy-brain-chemicals-36473dd4b982

3. Christopher Ash, “Pastoral Ministry and the Struggle to Sleep,” March 14, 2016, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/pastoral-ministry-and-the-struggle-to-sleep/

4. Quote from an excerpt from Archibald Hart, The Anxiety Cure: You Can Find Emotional Tranquility and Wholeness (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999), https://www.crosswalk.com/newsletters-only/live-it/manage-stress-so-it-doesnt-manage-you-859156.html

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. “How to Rest Your Way to Less Stress,” accessed May 30,2019, www.sleepscore.com/how-to-rest-your-way-to-less-stress/

8. Salcido, “5 Strategies.”

Eileen Nielsen is the Member Care Facilitator for TEAM Japan and a counselor at Tokyo Mental Health Clinic. She leads seminars on using MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) for team building, conflict resolution, and personal development.

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