I wrote this letter recently to a student who told me he was struggling with stress while serving as a missionary for the LDS church. This was my reply:
It’s interesting that you wanted to know about missionary stress. I’m actually writing a book/workbook for a mission in Michigan who wanted some help for their missionaries. And I also have a son who is in Santiago, Chile, on his mission, and is experiencing some stressful times. The reason I say this is just to let you know that what you’re going through isn’t unusual, nor is it unique to you.
I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, in just about every kind of situation, and in 20 years of studying it, teaching it, writing about it, and having personal experiences in my own life, stress, as a process in the body, is a condition that works the same way for everyone. Every time I work with someone who is really stressed, they think their condition or situation is different, but it really isn’t. Ultimately, it comes down to three things to get you back in shape and out of the stress mode: 1) Fix the way you’re thinking about things (because the way you’re thinking about things really is the cause of your stress); 2) Do things to get you out of the stress mode; and 3) bring your mind/body back in balance so you can heal yourself from within. The second and third things are designed to make the “symptoms” of stress–the problems you experience as a result of chronic stress–go away.
I’d be happy to work with you individually, if you’d like, but I don’t want to pressure you to do anything you’d rather not do. The one thing I would really recommend that you avoid at all costs is that you meet with someone who ends up trying to solve the “problem” with drugs. That is a slippery slope that all too frequently ends up just making things a whole lot worse. They might have valid reasons for getting you on them, but I would only turn to them as a very last resort (and even then, I think they’re a bad call).