When I was a youth pastor I used to run weekend retreats, which were a ton of fun… at least afterwards I would look back on them as being fun (I think a lot of parents can feel the same about family trips). When I first started doing them, it was pretty overwhelming. Any event planner understands this feeling. There was convincing people to go (and making sure they show up), buying groceries and preparing meals, creating a schedule of activities, and gathering people together to do stuff like have meals, and perform 3 campfire talks. The worst thing is when I first started doing these trips I put pressure on myself to make sure everyone was having fun. Fortunately, I eventually realized if someone is bored that’s their own issue (there’s a bonus tip to parents who feel constant pressure to make their kids have fun: it’s not all up to you). Add to the list of challenges the fact that I’d have little sleep before the trip trying to get last minute things in place and then even less sleep on the trip, and I have a pretty strong recipe for being an emotional mess (something many parents can also get). I remember getting home after the first couple retreats, going into my room, and balling my eyes out… I mean I’d feel nothing… you know, like a man is supposed to feel. After the first four years worth of trips I started to loosen up in order to enjoy these trips more, and by the end of my eight year period as a youth pastor and 18 trips later, running these retreats was a breeze (I’m a slow learner).
One of the most important lessons I took from running events is if you try to be nice to someone who is anxious and ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” there’s a good chance the stressed person (e.g. me) is going to snap at you or have a meltdown. I did both of these reactions a bunch of times over the years: (me) “I don’t know! And now I can’t tell if I’m yelling or crying right now!” It seems like such a reaction to someone being nice, but when you’re stressed and get asked ‘what can I do to help?’ you’ve just been given one more thing to worry about. It’s awful because the nice person wanted to be helpful but get hurt, and the stressed person now feels terrible for attacking and/or having a meltdown. This dynamic is very common where you have an anxious person teamed up with a helpful person (if you have an anxious person and a rude person the anxious person also exploded, but it’ll be more random). Sooooo, here’s the simple solution to help the anxious person in a safer way: Instead of asking ‘what can I do?’ break it down to 2-3 possible options:
Do you want me to do ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’?
For example: 1. Do you want me to clear the table, vacuum, or give you space? 2. Do you want me to put away the laundry, do an errand for you, or keep the kids out of your way? 3. Do you want me to tidy up the living room, clean the cat litter, or get your meds?
Changing up your question to a simple a, b, or c option shows you put thought into the question and makes the decision really easy for the stressed person to answer. Instead of adding to the stress by asking ‘what do you want me to do?’: (anxious person) “I have no idea and now my head is going to explode giving me another thing to clean up,” the anxious person can say something like: “The first one,” or “All three.” When someone is stressed, you need to offer help in the least anxiety causing way possible or your thoughtfulness can lead to you getting yelled at. This simple change of having a specific question can help reduce the anxiety and help you look like the greatest person in the world; you’re welcome.
May you be a blessing to someone stressed this week.
Rev Chad David, www.ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people