How you may benefit from more breaks!

Have you ever noticed how overworking within ministry can sometimes be applauded? The extended hours, evening meetings, and, of course, the weekends leave little space for rest or time away from work. While ministry is a calling and requires stewardship of the people in our church, we must always remember another stewardship calling God has called us to cultivate–our bodily health. We have the chance to reorient where we place our priorities.

Over the course of several years, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative conducted extensive research into the physical wellness of thousands of pastors. One of the more interesting and significant findings was the correlation between extended time off and heart health/blood pressure. While not surprising, it’s notable that the intentional action of taking vacations or incorporating rest as a regular rhythm contributed to better overall health.  

Perhaps the following research points, taken from an article called, “Lowering Blood Pressure, One Day at A Time” from the Duke Clergy Health Initiative will help inform the priority level you place on your next vacation. 

  • Vacations and Blood Pressure

There is a link between taking vacation days and the likelihood of lower blood pressure. 

Findings from the Clergy Health Initiative suggest that the number of vacation days clergy take is inversely linked to the likelihood that they will have high blood pressure. That is, pastors who take less vacation time are more likely to report having high blood pressure than those who take more time away…Of those pastors in the survey who took no vacation during the previous year, 40 percent had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, compared to 37 percent of those who had taken one week of vacation and 34 percent of those who had taken two weeks. 

  • Vacations and heart health

The landmark Framingham Heart Study, which began in the 1940s and spans three generations, found in 1992 that women who took infrequent vacations — once every six years or less — were significantly more likely to develop coronary disease than those who vacationed more frequently. Another study in 2000 found that middle-aged men who were at risk for coronary disease were less likely after nine years to die from heart problems if they took more frequent annual vacations.

  • The Body Under Stress

When the body is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, releasing chemicals that elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and total energy consumption. When the stressor passes, the parasympathetic nervous system releases chemicals that calm the body and mind, returning them to their normal state of balance, called allostasis.

  • The Body Under Prolonged Stress

When a person is subjected to prolonged or chronic stress, the allostatic system is thrown out of balance, exposing the body to longer periods of mental strain, increased energy consumption, higher blood pressure, and increased heart rate. Taking time off or otherwise separating oneself from work or other sources of stress allows the body to resume its allostatic balance.

  • Plan for extended times away

Researchers thus theorize that vacation — a break of more than two days from work-related activities — may be important for maintaining overall health and well-being. Given that pastors don’t typically have a weekend break — most take just a single day off per week — it’s even more important that clergy schedule downtime.

Rather than applauding and elevating those within your ministry who work endlessly and tirelessly, why not applaud those who are able to effectively prioritize the stewardship of both their body and their ministries? The research shows much to be concerned about from a health perspective when we refrain from taking breaks. And, therefore, the effect and longevity of our overall ministry will be put at risk if we choose to neglect the ways God calls us to care for the health of our bodies. 

As pastors, let’s make rhythms of rest the norm rather than the exception. Let’s start by prioritizing the most important things. You will find God knew what He was talking about when He intentionally incorporated rest. Time to plan your next vacation!