Service Missionary
1. Developing Resilience under Stress

“1. Developing Resilience under Stress,” Adjusting to Service Missionary Life: Resource Booklet (2020)

“1. Developing Resilience under Stress,” Adjusting to Service Missionary Life

service missionaries working with food

1. Developing Resilience under Stress

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

A. Responding Positively to Stress

  • Pray fervently and often. 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 spiritual guidance you may receive throughout the day. Hearken to the voice of the Spirit. As you do so, you will continue to receive 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). Ask the Lord to help you recognize and follow spiritual promptings.

  • Be still. Stillness doesn’t mean just being physically still, although it can certainly include that. Being still is an inward attitude. It is a state of internal calm that invites God’s presence. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Learn to be still. You will then be more sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit. You will be more able to meet the demands of your mission. Whenever you’re feeling too much stress, you can practice stillness. Instead of focusing on the thoughts in your mind, pay attention to sensations in your body. Notice whether your muscles are tense or relaxed, and notice the sounds and smells around you. It is especially helpful to pay attention to your breathing (see Breathing Exercise). You’re not trying to suppress any thoughts or turn off your mind. You’re just shifting your attention away from worries and fears. This allows more room for the Spirit in your mind. It can also help you feel more at peace.

  • Recognize the hand of the Lord in all things. You have the privilege of participating in God’s miraculous work of blessing His children. Practice focusing every day on blessings you are grateful for. Notice the Spirit’s influence in your life, and write about it in your journal (see Moroni 10:3).

  • Serve from your strengths and talents. Make a list of your strengths, talents, and spiritual gifts. Your strengths are part of the Lord’s storehouse. He draws on them to bless His children and build His kingdom. A crucial part of your mission is to cultivate your gifts. Use your strengths in a Christlike way to help others. Consider what the Spirit whispered to one missionary: “I didn’t call you for your weaknesses. I called you for your strengths.” Focus more on what you do well than what you do wrong. Plan ways each week to develop and use your gifts to serve and bless others. (See Doctrine and Covenants 82:18–19.)

  • Identify and memorize comforting scriptures. As you study the scriptures, list verses that strengthen and comfort you. You may read, listen to, or memorize them.

  • Focus on the needs of those you are serving. Think about what you can do to bless those you are serving. Seek inspiration to know how you can better help them. Try to strengthen their faith.

  • Connect your work to people you know. Think about how your service helps people you know with real problems. In your journal, record examples of how your service makes a difference for others.

    Church leader meeting with young man
  • Examine your expectations. Your service mission may not always be what you expected. Sometimes things won’t turn out the way you hoped. Your assignment may not always be challenging or rewarding. And you may not do everything perfectly. But 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 thy way” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7, 9).

  • Ask for permission to take a break from whatever you are doing. Perhaps you can’t take one right away. If so, tell yourself, “I can wait until time for a break.”

  • Exercise. Regular exercise is one effective way to manage stress. Try to participate in a variety of activities that are both enjoyable and physically challenging. As you focus on these activities, you may find yourself energized. You will be able to forget the worries of the day. Any exercise can help increase your stamina and capacity to serve the Lord. Find a way to reward yourself for finding ways to increase your exercise.

  • Don’t try to control things you cannot control. The results of your righteous efforts may depend on the agency of others. You cannot control people or force them to do things. “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” (Doctrine and Covenants 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” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique for dealing with stress. It involves paying attention to experiences in the present moment. Use it when you’re feeling overly stressed or fearful. Try to focus your awareness on what’s going on around you. Focus on right now and right here, not on the future. Notice how your mind is reacting to this awareness.

    • Take a deep breath, close your eyes if necessary, and try to relax.

    • Take a short walk if that is helpful.

    • Observe, almost as an outsider, what you were worrying about. How are you feeling about it?

    • Allow whatever is bothering you to pass. Focus on what you can or should do in the next few minutes.

    • If the situation does not improve, let your service mission leader know.

  • Befriend your coworkers and other missionaries. Share ideas, serve each other, help each other, and forgive each other.

    service missionaries walking together
  • Use music. Recall the words to a few songs or scriptures that you love. When you are feeling stressed or discouraged, remember the words. Ask if you can use earbuds at your service assignment. Listen to calming music if it does not interfere with your assignment. Consider using “Calm” or a similar app on your smartphone.

  • Remember what you’ve learned. You have been dealing with change and difficulty your whole life. List what you have learned from past periods of high stress (a move, a loss, or a new school or job). How can you use these skills now?

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 parents or service mission leader 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 think more clearly. Take a walk, or get some food or a drink. Or just sit and be still for a few minutes. Just naming what you feel (for example, I feel frustrated or rejected) can help your brain start to work on the problem.

  • 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 on what is right, good, and positive about yourself and the world. Offer a prayer of gratitude for at least five specific things. Tell yourself, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people” (3 Nephi 5:13).

  • 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 .”

  • Help someone else. Refocus your energy by serving someone else. Smile at people, help them out, and offer service. Start a conversation with someone to bring your thoughts back to the present.

  • Talk back to negative thinking. Right now, or before bed tonight, list today’s negative thoughts on paper. Then rewrite them to be more hopeful, truthful, and encouraging (see the following example).

service missionaries talking

C. Helping Others Who Are Overstressed

  • Notice others who are struggling. Let them know that you understand. Offer to help. Take time to listen to their distress. Suggest that they take a short break.

  • Think of your baptismal covenant. We have promised “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; … to 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 and in all things” (Mosiah 18:8–9). Apply this covenant by (1) sharing another’s burden, (2) offering understanding and comfort, and (3) testifying of God’s love.

  • Ask a few questions, but don’t force the person to talk. Try saying, “You seem upset. What happened?” or “Would you be willing to tell me about it?” Other good comments might include:

    • “I don’t know what to say right now, but I’m so glad you told me.”

    • “Tell me about what you’re feeling right now.”

    • “I care about you.”

    • “I’m here for you.”

    • “It’s okay to feel this way. You aren’t broken.”

  • Remind the other person of what he or she does well. For example, you could say, “I really appreciate your integrity and your desire to serve God.”

  • 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. You should not take on the role of counselor with others. But you can be an empathetic listener who helps and supports them.

  • 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 calling. Be trustworthy, and keep confidences.

    service missionaries working together
  • Focus on what needs to be decided right now. Help overstressed individuals to sidestep big issues and focus on the immediate decisions to be made. Offer to help them. Encourage them to come back to the bigger problem when things have calmed down. Then help them look for solutions. Remind them that the Lord can help with solutions over time. We should do what we can and turn our problems over to Him.

D. Dealing with a Personal Challenge

You are a unique person with unique strengths and weaknesses. If you have a personal challenge you would like to work on, write it here:

Make a list of things you have already learned that help you cope with it:

Also list new things to try. You can learn from people around you, professionals, or personal research. Think of physical, emotional, social, intellectual, or spiritual approaches that might help. Remember you will probably have to practice a new approach for several weeks. Then you will know how well it works.

Practice explaining your challenge to others and asking for help managing it. Practice with your parents or service mission leaders.