Church leaders work to provide community to their church attendees, but based on Barna research are more likely to feel isolated and alone. The stress and anxiety of leading has resulted in 1 out of 4 pastors doubting their faith during their leadership tenure. It doesn't have to be this way. Our friend, Carey Nieuwhof, shares five ways to reduce stress, anxiety and overwhelm in leadership and life.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, how do you answer?

Most of the leaders I talk to these days answer with two variations: “stressed” or “busy.”

Dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see that at a deep level, most leaders today feel anxious and overwhelmed. Welcome to life in the 21st century.

There are a million reasons why:

You have a device in your pocket that buzzes and rings and bring your work with you everywhere you go.

Your single email inbox has been replaced by multiple inboxes everywhere you look so anyone can reach you anytime (does every social media app have to have an inbox? Really? Apparently so.)

The news you watch is now just an endless cycle of outrage and controversy.

So much of your social media feed these days is outrage and controversy too.

Plus you have a growing list of responsibilities at work and at home.

As a result, as your work follows you and as people contact you endlessly, you can’t seem to get it all done. No wonder anxiety is on the rise.

But enough about the problem…what about the solution? Sometimes anxiety and stress are best handled by a medical doctor or a good counsellor, but often there are also things you can do every day that will help.

How can you reduce stress, anxiety and overwhelm in your leadership and life? Here are 5 keys:

1. Focus on What You Know is True, Not on What Fou Feel is True.

Life and leadership are emotional journeys, and the problem with emotions is that they lie.

You know that voice in your head that amplifies the negative…like when you get an email complaint or someone criticizes you and you just lock in how terrible they are/you are/everything is? That’s not a helpful voice.

Similarly, when you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to start thinking in absolutes:

  • Everything’s bad
  • There’s no way I can handle this
  • Things are totally out of control
  • I’m just dead if this keeps up

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.


Full stop.

Maybe that’s what you feel is true, but it’s not true.

Everything’s not bad. You’ve handled some pretty complex When you're overwhelmed, focus on what you KNOW is true, not on what you FEEL is true. Emotions lie.stuff in the past. Not everything is out of control. And no, you’re probably not dead if this keeps up.

I know when I get overwhelmed, I have to call an audible and remind myself of God’s faithfulness in the past, of the fact that yes, I have a problem, but no, I’m not completely incompetent or alone.

I remind myself, God is less done with me than I am.

When you’re overwhelmed, focus on what you God is less done with you than you are.know is true, not what you feel is true. Repeat it out loud if you need to. Get a friend to remind you of what you know is true.

It helps. A lot.

2. Get a Few Quick, Small Wins

When you’re overwhelmed and stressed, you feel like you’re losing everywhere.

And maybe you truly are way behind on a project, or the meeting actually did go up in flames. But if you’re not careful, you’ll start to spiral even further, ruminating When you feel like you're not winning, get a quick, small win. Sometimes that's what you need to get you moving toward bigger wins. on how terrible it all is as we outlined in point one.

Or, you think the only way to win is to fix everything which seems so massive it’s impossible. So another way to break that cycle is to get a few quick, small wins.

How small?

  • Clear off your desk.
  • Answer those four emails that have been sitting at the bottom of your inbox for a week.
  • Write a thank you card you’ve been meaning to write.
  • Do the software updates on your laptop.

What do these things have in common?

Each of them gets you from start to finish in five minutes or less. And sometimes that’s exactly what you need at the moment.

When you feel like you’re not winning, get a quick, small win. Sometimes that’s what you need to get you moving toward bigger wins.

3. Call it a Day

When you’re anxious and stressed, driven leaders often get tricked into thinking the best thing they can do is to do more. Not always.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is call it a day. Even if it’s 2:00 in the afternoon.

I’m not talking about doing that every day (good luck with that…), but I am saying sometimes the best thing you can give yourself is a break. The more driven you are, the more true that is.

The alternative, of course, is that you spiral more deeply into overwhelm, or that you stare blankly at a computer screen getting less and less productive as every hour Occasionally, the best thing you can give yourself is a break. The more driven you are, the more true that is.passes and come home even more miserable to your family, who now hates you.

No one gets credit for unproductive work.

So give yourself a break. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Make a hard break with work for a day and come back rested, refreshed and in a better space tomorrow.

A rested you is a better you.

4. Start Thinking in Categories

Quick little wins and calling it a day are not going to get you out of overwhelm for long, but they can help break the immediate crisis. If you’re overwhelmed or constantly stressed, the problem is your system isn’t working for you, it’s working against you. And chances are your system was designed for an earlier stage if life…like when you had no kids, or fewer kids, or your church or organization was smaller, or you had fewer staff.

Chances also are that your system is not designed for your present or your future, as even more comes your way. (Which is what I show you how to fix in The High Impact Leader.) Why is that?

Well, your natural tendency is to think of everything that comes your way as individual or random things. But that’s not how it works. As I dealt with overwhelm as a young leader, I realized I had to start making categorical decisions, such as:

  • I only do meetings on Tuesday and Thursdays.
  • I only do one-on-ones with my direct reports.
  • I no longer meet with volunteers, I meet with volunteer leaders.

It won’t take you long to realize you can categorize your workflow and life into categories pretty quickly. No one lives an exceptional life if everything's an exception. That's how you got stressed out in the first place.Then you need to decide which are the best ones for you to embrace in this season of life.

I know what you’re thinking. What about the exceptions? Of course, there are exceptions, but no one lives an exceptional life if everything’s an exception. After all, that’s exactly how you got stressed out in the first place.

5. Manage Your Energy, Not Just Your Time

One of the biggest shifts that happened for me occurred when I realized that, like every other human being, my energy waxes and wanes over the course of the day.

Sure, you get 24 equal hours in the day, but not all hours are created equal. The key to realizing your leadership potential is this: do what you're best at when you're at your best.I really am a morning person (don’t hate), and the highest value input I bring to my work is my writing and thinking.

Guess what? I think far more clearly, creatively and quickly in the morning than I do in the mid to late afternoon. And about 1000% better than I do at 8:00 at night.

For me, there is a world of difference between writing at 8 a.m. and at 8 p.m. Fill in the blanks and time slots for your work and your rhythms, but you’ll discover the same thing.

So the key to realizing the maximum potential in my leadership was this: doing what I’m best at when I’m at my best.

I can pretty much guarantee that shift alone will double your productivity. Maybe triple it. I wish I was a robot and could be clear and focused every hour of every day, but I’m not. And neither are you.

You can compete with that (which most leaders do), or you can cooperate with that. Once you begin co-operating with that, the chains come off.

How do you beat stress?

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Find the original article "5 Keys to Reducing Stress, Anxiety, and Overwhelm in Leadership (and Life)" by Carey Nieuwhof.