Missionary Anxiety and Stress

Missionary looking over city scape

Over the weekend I received an email that really concerned me. The email came through the LDS Missionary Moms group I belong to. It was addressed to all missionary mums (and families) throughout the world and warned us about a growing concern that seems to be affecting many of our missionaries today. I gained permission from Betty Pearson, the moderator of the e-group, to re-post here the contents of that email. I have not changed the wording of the email in any way, and it appears here exactly as it it did when it was sent to me. It speaks for itself, so I will make no further comment on it. *Please note the website that Betty recommends to all future missionaries and their families.

MIssionary Anxiety and Stress:

It is concerning that so many missionaries are struggling with this issue. As parents, perhaps the best thing we can do right now is to help our own missionaries through this struggle, AND, if we have future missionaries, help them understand that they might experience this on their missions, and how to overcome it. They can develop tools right now that will aid and strengthen them during hard times of homesickness, stress, and anxiety. 

Last year there were over 6000 missionaries that came home early because of these kinds of issues. Most did not return to the mission field. There is no single cause, and there is no one solution.

Dr. Richard Ingebretsen works with many Mission Doctors, and they have compiled a book called, "Missionary Medicine". They also have a website that we highly recommend you visit. They have added sections for depression, anxiety and stress:

Missionary Medicine - A Guide to LDS Missionary Health

In his email to me, he wrote: "Communication is very, very important. The missionary has to have people to talk with and to email with. Families need to be able to communicate with the missionary and the missionary needs someone in the field to talk with. This can be a companion, a missionary friend, a counselor, or a friend from home. The Church has done several things to help. The first is they are allowing missionaries to email friends at home and in other missions. This will allow the missionary to communicate and see how their friends are coping. It also makes a mission more familiar in that they can keep the communication lines open with their support system. 

"It is recommended that missionaries take out a "911 package." In the package they should include pictures, music, and other items from home that will help them when they are stressed out. Any item that would have some special meaning that the missionary can turn to give them strength.

"Missionaries should be taught prior to leaving about the symptoms of homesickness and anxiety and should be prepared to address them ahead of time. Families should be prepared to know that the missionary will have symptoms and be prepared. They should read about anxiety and stress and educate themselves ahead of time. The two chapters in our book were written by one of the psychiatrists for the church. They are pretty good and should be read by parents and missionaries.

"If they are in areas where it is dark much of the year, they can use light boxes where the missionary will be exposed to bright lights. This helps to produce vitamin D in their system. These have been successful.  Vitamin D supplements can be useful for anyone having symptoms.

"Exercise is important as well, if a missionary is not working out this can be helpful. Diet is important as well, but a lot of missionaries who are stressed just don't eat well at all.

"In the end, it might be useful for the missionary to be transferred to a mission closer to home, where the sights, sounds, meals, and language are more familiar. Families can send packages easier and communication is better." NB: Image sourced at LDS.org - Media Library 

An Invitation

Las Vegas, Nevada Temple

Welcome to all my new readers, and also to those who drop by now and then. With lots more missionaries preparing to serve, this kind of forum is going to be sought after more and more. So I would invite those who have visited here already to share it with your friends and families.

If you haven’t found MMM on facebook then please do as there is so much more offered there in the way of resources, videos and links. It’s very easy to do…

Just return to the Homepage of this blog and click the ‘Like’ button on the right hand side of the page under MMM on Facebook.

Or if you want to go directly to the Facebook page then my page can be found at…

MISSIONARY MUM’S MEETING PLACE FACEBOOK PAGE

Yesterday I shared a link to a blog that offers some ideas on how to organise your missionaries emails, letters and photos…

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The Call of the Future

Missionary Training Center

Do you feel it in the air? It’s thick with anticipation and excitement. At church, at home, lunching with friends, through email, phone and text, and of course all over Facebook. It’s the call of the future…Everyone is affected by it, so if you are not preparing now then it’s time to start.

Just this morning I read of several new missionary announcements on Facebook and received an email from a friend revealing her daughter’s call to the Tokyo, Japan Mission. This is a daily experience for me, as I am sure it is for you. It seems the call has gone out and the challenge has been accepted…on a mass scale.

It’s exciting!

In a previous post I talked about the qualities required of a missionary…Faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God (D&C 4:5). So today I want to add to that and suggest some ways that we can, as families, help prepare our young men and women develop those qualities and be able to answer the call of the future.

Elder HollandParents, families and all in the church, have been summoned to participate as a joint effort. Elder Holland made it clear on October 6th 2012 when he stated, “As part of the pre mission preparation, we are going to ask everyone to be working earlier and sooner…”

In our own home, as we prepare our 17-year-old son for this phase of his life, we have been searching out the most effective ways to equip him with the resources and attitudes necessary to leave in less than a year. Notice how I suggest here that it is ‘we’ and not just ‘he’ that is involved in this preparation.

With our daughter not long off her mission, we decided as a family to explore the Preach My Gospel manual in our FHE lessons. Following the model of the youth teaching curriculum (the model of the Saviour’s teaching), we take turns in presenting some of the gospel principles from the manual. I must admit it has been a struggle at times to get everyone involved…but fun. Playing the investigator and trying to come up with some interesting questions for the teacher is a highlight. But most of all it’s definitely helping to prepare our future missionary son.

Who is ‘everyone’?

If you feel you are exempt as a mother or father of very young children, then think again…remember what Elder Holland said? “…everyone to be working earlier and sooner…”

Preach My GospelToday I read a great blog post by an amazing LDS mum, and I believe she struck upon gold while struggling with some choices about teaching her young children. In the process of decision-making she was prompted several times to explore Chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel,

“I wanted to teach them letters, study world cultures, geography, study music, art, history, numbers, and go on field trips.

“So ignored the prompting and delved back into my hunt for just the right educational curriculum. My feelings of unease increased and so I went back to my knees. Again, the same answer, “Chapter 6, Christ-like Attributes. Once a week on Family Home Evening isn’t enough, they need it every day.”

“But God, that chapter really isn’t designed for 4-year-olds how am I going to teach that? But I get the idea you want me to teach them virtues, right? Okay, I can do that.””

                                           —‘Moms Missionary Training Center’ – Women in the Scriptures

Richard G. Scott

Richard G. Scott set forth the challenge when outlining the power of Preach My Gospel,

I encourage you to find out how this extraordinary resource can help in your missionary efforts, either as a parent preparing a child for a mission, a Church leader helping new converts, a member sharing the gospel, or an individual getting ready to serve.

                                    April 2005 General Conference

For The Strength of YouthAnother mother suggested that we have all the resources at hand, but may not recognize it. Her recommendation was to use the principles taught in the For The Strength of Youth booklet…a great idea for our youth. For several years as our family grew we would spend 10 minutes each Monday night exploring and discussing a different section of this booklet. At the very beginning of the book a promise is given by the First Presidency,

“We promise that as you keep the covenants you have made and these standards, you will be blessed with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, your faith and testimony will grow stronger, and you will enjoy increasing happiness.”

                                        For The Strength of Youth

Certainly nothing to be ignored…don’t we all hope and pray this for our children?

Come Follow Me CurriculumThe new Sunday school and youth curriculum is a wonderful model for mum’s and dad’s to follow in Family Home Evenings and other learning sessions. If you haven’t checked out the ’Come Follow Me’ website, then it is a must. It includes ideas and methods of teaching that we can all use at home and at church.

Would it surprise you if I told you that parents are an important part of the success of this youth teaching program as it prepares them for missionary service? How much do you pattern your FHE lessons around the lessons they are having in Sunday School and Youth classes each month?

English: Name tags of two of . Created by Saaby.

Then of course, for those young men and young women who are on threshold of their future, there is the inspired institute program of Mission Prep classes. It’s here that they will work together to practice and implement much of the missionary specific principles contained in the Preach My Gospel manual.

All the resources are there at our fingertips to help in getting these precious young men and women prepared for service. It’s now time for all of us to answer the call of the future…

The Forgotten Missionaries

I’ve been absent for a while because I am on holidays with family (loving every minute of the sun and surf here in Queensland, Australia). But just wanted to share something quickly with you.

For the last week I have been involved in a conversation with some other missionary mums about the many missionaries who don’t receive any gifts from home over the Christmas season. For example, here in the Brisbane Australia Mission, as off Monday this week, there were 45 elders and 12 sisters who had not received a gift through the mail. As a result, I am in the process of delivering 3 gifts to the local mission office here in Brisbane to be given to any missionaries who haven’t received one.

I know it’s rather late, but I would encourage all of you out there to do something similar if you are in a position to. There are many families who just don’t have the means to send their missionary something for Christmas. There are also missionaries who don’t have family to send them anything. So, if you are in the position to, contact your local mission office and ask if gifts are needed. I know it is very close to Christmas, but most missions have the ability to deliver gifts to their missionaries right up to the last minute.

Let’s not forget them…

I would also like to wish you all a wonderful christmas and an amazing new year. Lots of new things to discuss in 2013. I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts…

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Ring, ring…why don’t you give me a call

MOTHER’S DAY!

Yep, and you know what that means….that long awaited phone call.

So here are my suggestions on some things you might want to include in on that conversation.

Believe me…you may think you have a grip on what you want to talk about, but when comes the voice on the other end, all thoughts flee and you become a babbling mess (well, maybe not for all of us, but it has been known to happen).

Here is that list. I posted this last Mother’s Day and at Christmas too…but always good to repost for those who may be new missionary mums and dads.

Downloadable version available at the end of this post…

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These suggestions are kindly shared by Betty Pearson, who hosts the LDS Missionary Moms Email Groups. If you have a missionary serving somewhere in the world and have not yet signed up for an email group, then you are truly missing out. Betty volunteers endless hours of her spare time to provide this free service, and there are literally thousands of missionary mums connecting every day because of it.

No matter where your missionary is serving in the world, there is an email group of missionary mums connected to his/her mission. The women in these groups are fantastic. I personally belong to two groups; one connected to the mission my daughter is serving in, and the other connected to the area I live in.

Now for that list…

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, I am sure there are many more ideas that can be added to it, but it is here merely to get you started. Also, don’t think that you have to ask all these questions in one sitting.

I would suggest that you have pen and paper on hand to record any significant responses your missionary may have.

The Church in Your Area:
How many members in your ward/branch?
What is the church building like?

The Area You Serve in:
What is the town like?
Rural, small town, small city, med. city, large city?
What does the area look like?
Flat? Rolling hills? A lot of trees?
How hot is it?
How cold is it?
How often does it rain?

About Your Companion:
How is your companion?
How long has he/she been out?
Is his/her family LDS?
Do they support him/her with letters?
Life member or convert?

Your Wellbeing:
Are you sleeping well?
How is the food?
What is the best food you’ve eaten?
What is the weirdest food you’ve eaten?
How many dinner appointments do you get?
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
Lunch?
How are your clothes?
Shoes?
Socks?
How are your feet?
Any problems?
Do you need more toothpaste?
Deodorant?
Vitamins?

Your Surroundings:
What is your apt like?
Is it in a big building?
Are your neighbors friendly or scared of you?
How far away is the Mission Office?
What do you see outside your window?

Other Missionaries You Serve With:
How many in your District?
Where are they from?
Who is the District Leader?
Zone Leader?
How often do you have Zone Conference?

Your P-day Routine:
What do you usually do on P-day?
What service do you do?
How often?

The Work:
Who are you teaching at the moment?
What do they do for work?
What are some of the questions they ask?
How much door knocking do you do in a week?
How much teaching do you do in a week?

Another suggestion by one of the mums from our email group was to ask the missionary to open their journal at a random date and start reading.

Well, I hope these questions have been helpful. You may even be able to come up with some more.

Enjoy the call with your missionary and I would love to hear from you how the experience went.

Download and print a PDF of these questions – Questions to Ask on Mothers Day Use the back of the page to record any special comments or information your missionary shares.

Top 10 Christmas Gift Ideas – Under $20

I’m sure right now our US friends are all enjoying a needed break from their busy lives, and  spending time with family and friends giving thanks for all the blessings they have. I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving over this weekend.

Today I am going to jump the gun a bit and push your attention to the upcoming season. By the end of this weekend I know you will all be starting to focus on the next big celebration ahead…Christmas (did I hear a groan?). We all love this time of year don’t we? Well, I do…

Here I’ll be exploring some gift ideas for our serving missionaries. The first 6 ideas I found on the LDS Online Store – all items purchased can be delivered worldwide, directly to your missionary free of postal charge. The last 4 are taken from other LDS stores and may involve a delivery fee. Also, don’t forget to check out my previous post ‘You’ve Had a Birthday, Shout Hooray’ for some other gift ideas.

So here are my Top 10 Christmas suggestions:

1.    Mormon Tabernacle Choir CD.

Most missions will allow missionaries to listen to wholesome music (but please check with your missionary before buying). There is a huge range of Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs on offer at the LDS Online Store, all at very reasonable prices; music that is both uplifting and inspirational. If your missionary loves the sounds of Christmas then this is the perfect gift.

2.    Journal

Missionaries love to keep a record of everything they experience, which means they will probably go through more than one journal in that time. The LDS Online Store has both hard cover and loose-leaf journals available. Loose-leaf journals are a great way for them to record their experiences and then mail them home for the family to read.

3.    LDS Magazine Subscriptions

Most mission apartments will have at least one Ensign subscription delivered each month. However, when you have up to 3 companionships in an apartment, it can mean survival of the fittest when it comes to having your turn to read a current magazine. Sending your missionary their own copy every month will help to solve this problem. They can then hand them on to investigators once they have finished reading them.

4.    LDS General Conference CDs

Most mission cars have a CD player. Your missionary can use travel time listening to the inspirational words of our prophets and apostles while they travel from place to place. DVDs are available too, which might be a good resource for teaching investigators as well.

5.    A New White Tie

Most Elders will have a white tie in their luggage when they go out, but it may be worth asking if the tie still looks white and fresh. Towards the end of a mission, especially if the missionary has performed multiple baptisms, it may need to be replaced.

6.    LDS Gifts for Investigators

Missionaries love to have things they can give their investigators that will help them understand the simplicity of the Gospel – especially for children. So things like simplified scripture readers, and Friend subscriptions, will help them in their teaching, and help their investigators understand Gospel principles.

7.    LDS Tie Tacs and Pins

Let’s face it, Elders are pretty limited in the extent of their wardrobe. So a tie tac or tie pin is a great way to introduce some variety and personality. There are some really unique tie tacs and pins available with appropriate messages for missionaries. Deseret Online Bookstore offers a large assortment.

8.    CTR Earrings

Ok, this one’s for the sisters. They can’t be outdone by the Elders, so these CTR Earrings are a cute way to express yourself as a missionary. Other jewellery items available from Deseret Online Bookstore are rings and charms with LDS themes.

9.    52 Weeks of Recipes

I know it is hard to go past all my amazing Food Friday missionary recipes. But if you have to then this sounds like the perfect way to do it – especially for a missionary who doesn’t have a whole lot of dinner dates (believe me, there are missions out there that don’t offer regular dinner appointments for the missionaries). There’s enough recipes for 52 weeks of the year, so they will never run out of food ideas.

10.    LDS Missionary Pillowcase

Just imagine your missionary resting his/her head on their pillow at night, with words of support and love to cushion them. This pillowcase is a fun way to remind your missionary each day how much you love them and support them…such sweet comfort 🙂

The Ultimate Gift

The more I searched online, the more I found. So there are multiple gift ideas for missionaries out there. But most of all, I think the ultimate gift you can give your missionary are words of support, love and encouragement. A simple hand written message to your missionary that is sealed, stamped and mailed can mean more to them than any kind of commercial gift.

I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas season. May the Lords blessings be distilled upon you like the dews from heaven.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

Coming Home

Well, that brings us to the end of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series. I have enjoyed bringing it to you, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. But most importantly, I hope that as a family you can take the time to discuss the ideas shared here so that you can more effectively prepare for the return of your missionary.

Thank you to Dave and Wendy Ulrich for giving me the framework of this series, and thanks to my brother-in-law and his wife for sharing with me some of their thoughts on the matter.

To finish it up I thought I would share a quick video that a friend sent me this week. I know it may set off the waterworks, but I think it says it all, and is a fitting way to finish this series.

Here is a recap of all this things we covered in this series:

  1. Introduction to ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series
  2. To Pick Them Up Or Not
  3. Excitement and Disorientation
  4. The Need for Structure
  5. Big Goals, Little Steps
  6. Renegotiating Family Relationships
  7. Friends and Dating
  8. Singles Wards and Church Callings
  9. Finding Meaning
  10. Getting Help
  11. 13 Guidelines to a Softer Transition

Tomorrow I am going to get up close and personal about my daughters return and share what it feels like for a mother the day before her missionary arrives home.

13 Guidelines To A Softer Transition

Part 10 (final part) of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series.

For the last 6 days I have enjoyed time with some of my husbands family. We’ve done some great sightseeing around this beautiful country of New Zealand, as well as laughing and talking together. I love family time and, being so far away from most of our family at the moment, it has made me appreciate those few times we have together.

One of the added benefits of this visit has been the time I had to talk with my brother-in-law and his wife – a recently returned mission president. On one of our drives out to see some of the amazing seascapes of New Zealand, I took the opportunity to ask them what their advice would be to newly returned missionaries and their families. Their response surprised me, but made complete sense.

Preach My Gospel

As each of their departing missionaries met with them for the last time, my brother-in-law would hand them a new daily planner (your returning missionary will know what that is), and then he would invite them to review the 13 planning guidelines on pages 147-149 of the Preach My Gospel booklet.

Even tho’ those guidelines refer to a missionaries weekly planning session, and much of it focuses on investigators, baptisms, confirmations and teaching opportunities, they would discuss with the returning missionary how this kind of guideline would help them when they went home. The challenge was then given to each returning missionary to continue using this daily planner in the context of their new life; to find new meaning from something they were familiar with. Replacing the missionary focus with a focus on school, work, spiritual and social activities.

What do I think?

I love this whole concept…purely from the point of view that it allows for a smoother transition from missionary to returned missionary. This kind of planning would be so ingrained in the missionaries psyche that extending it into their new life would be a great way to make a softer shift from one life to the next. The missionary can make that transition in such a way that they can incorporate many of the things they have been doing over the last 18 months to 2 years into their new life.

Of course there would need to be a different interpretation of each guideline in terms of their new life, but that is part of the process of things; finding new meaning with the help from something that is familiar to them.

For your information, I have listed those 13 guidelines below. As parents it might well be a good idea to become familiar with them so that you can be ready to discuss this idea with your returned missionary.

  1. Pray for and seek inspiration
  2. Set goals and make plans for investigators to be baptised and confirmed in the coming week
  3. Set goals and make plans for investigators with a baptismal date
  4. Set goals and make plans to help investigators attend sacrament meeting
  5. Set goals and make plans for lessons to be taught to progressing investigators
  6. Set goals and make plans for lessons to be taught to other investigators
  7. Set goals and make plans to contact and teach referrals received from members, investigators, nonmembers, and church headquarters
  8. Set goals and make plans to seek more referrals from members, investigators, and non members
  9. Set goals and make plans for lessons you will teach to recent converts and less-active members
  10. Set goals and make plans to find new investigators
  11. Plan how to work with ward council
  12. Schedule meetings that occur regularly
  13. Conduct companionship inventory

What I do know is that in my final email to my missionary daughter (today), I will be suggesting she bring home an unused daily planner so that we can talk about this idea when she arrives home in 4 days time.

Getting Help

Part 9 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series.

For many parents, family and friends it is all they can do to assist the missionary to find their place in the world when they return. Not always, but sometimes, it requires the help of others to make that transition.

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From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Getting help. Sometimes missionaries face more than temporary adjustments to returning home. Some struggle to make sense out of disappointments or negative experiences as missionaries. Others stop being active in the Church, or still seem lost many weeks after returning home. Some assume that since they completed an honorable mission, God should take care of them better than He seems to be doing. Parents, bishops, other missionaries, siblings, former advisors, teachers, and professional counselors may help such missionaries to make peace with their mission, sort out problems, and get back on track.

Conclusion. Transitions take time. The first year home from a mission seems to be especially vulnerable, and if other family or life transitions are thrown in at the same time this can dramatically multiply the stress your missionary feels. Model tolerance for ambiguity, humor, baby steps, decision-making and problem-solving skills, self-forgiveness, adult spirituality, and loving connections and acceptance. And enjoy the ride!

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What do I think?

Fortunately I never had to seek professional help on my return. But I have to say there were times when I considered it. It certainly was not an easy journey for me. I did find help from family and friends. However, I was sure to choose those people I trusted the most.

But the thing to remember is to be patient and don’t over-react. These things take time, love and understanding. In many cases it is just as challenging an experience as the mission itself. That’s ok, because it is a time of learning and growing. There are a lot of people out there who can assist, not just professionals. Friends, family, and ecclesiastical leaders can often assist the missionary in finding the perspective they need. The important thing is for the missionary to keep connected, and not to cut themselves off from everyone around them.

Questions:

1. If your missionary does seem to be distancing themselves from everyone around you, can you identify two or three people you could call on that your missionary would trust the most?

2. What are some other ways you think would help a missionary to find help?

**Before I finish this series, next time, I am going to add another source of information on this topic. From a recently returned mission president, I will share some information that they offered to their returning missionaries on ways to assist in their transition.

Finding Meaning

Part 8 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’

We all want meaning and purpose in our life. Never more so than on the return from a mission. Finding meaning, as the returned missionary shifts from a highly structured life of selfless service to a lifestyle that is often seen as selfish, could prove problematic.

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From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Finding meaning. It is often difficult for returning missionaries to find work or activities with anything close to the meaning and purpose that being a missionary had. Driving a pizza truck or struggling through chemistry just may not feel as eternally significant as preaching the gospel and saving souls. Also, it may feel selfish and unnatural to spend so much time thinking about their own life and goals when they are used to spending most of their time thinking about others. Help them find ways to keep their work, school, social, and personal goals connected to their larger spiritual goals and purposes. Encourage them to remember the big picture, find new ways to serve, and make time to nurture themselves in the good word of God through scripture study, good books, church classes, and prayer. But also help them conceptualize spirituality as less defined by strict obedience to a set of outward rules (appropriate in the mission field) and more defined by balance, prioritizing, building a community, and infusing spirituality into the messy business of work, school, dating, roommates, families, and singles wards.

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What do I think?

From a temporal point of view this is one of the things I worry the most about for my returning missionary. In a country that is still trying to get back on its feet economically after the GFC, I worry that my returning missionary will not be able to find employment before she starts school next March. Without some kind of meaningful activity for her to absorb her time, it could cause her to question her value, or at least, lose sight of the bigger picture. Add to the mix her possible reluctance to be in the world again, I think this is going to be something she may struggle with…but I could be wrong.

Of course, as Dave and Wendy point out, this is a time for the returning missionary to define their new life by balance, prioritizing, building community and infusing spirituality. As the scriptures state,

“Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.” D&C 29:34

I think it is very wise advice from Dave and Wendy, that as parents we need to be able to continually encourage them to view their life in the bigger picture, giving them a vision of the spiritual nature of those temporal things they will now be involved in.

Questions:

1. What are some ways that we as parents can help our returned missionary see the spiritual nature of their temporal lives?

2. Do you agree with Dave and Wendy that the returned missionary should avoid living their life according to the strict guidelines of a mission?

Next week, this series will conclude with a discussion on ‘Getting Help’.