The theme song for Jaws has been playing in my head, with the strap line for Jaws 2: just when you thought it was safe to go into the water. The newest manifestation of Covid-19, Omicron, may or may not be as menacing as the first and I am unsettled. My American daughter has cancelled her Christmas visit (a US news outlet calls the UK ‘Plague Island’ – with world high Covid death rates and raw sewage discharged into rivers and seas). I am constantly trying to assess how dangerous my social activities may be, just when I had become accustomed to living life pretty much as I did before Covid but with a mask on in crowded places. I can do a lateral flow test in record time.
My desire to not have my equilibrium disturbed is strong, but I notice certain stress behaviours increasing. Most of these have to do with the consumption of chocolate or other ‘treats’. Jiminy Christmas, haven’t we all had enough?
But my greatest concern is for key workers, particularly health care workers, and for clergy. We have required good hearted, compassionate people to operate at peak levels for over 21 months. It simply isn’t physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually sustainable. Meet the human function curve, also known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law (1908):
(This version of the curve is derived from the National Health Service, Scotland Deanery, attributed to Dr Peter Nixon.)
As Covid uncertainty increases, stress hormones like cortisol increase arousal. We seek to continue to do what needs to be done but it is impossible to sustain our performance. Mistakes will be made. We become exhausted and negative. Ill health and burnout threaten. This is a simple physical reality. We cannot wish it away. There is no moral judgement to be made when a person can no longer give and give and give. They need to STOP to save their lives.
The Tragedy and Congregations team has continued to offer Trauma-informed ministry for these times sessions, in person and virtually. What we notice is that clergy are shattered. They have become tech wizards and Covid safety officers, trying to hold congregations and communities together in trying times, handling people’s pain and frustration, and attempting to rationalise diminishing resources. They may look like they are fine, but under the surface they have been paddling as fast as they can for a long time now. Many have increased workloads. And even if they aren’t working more hours, the hours they work are taking a greater toll.
So give ‘em a break. Tell your vicar or minister how much you appreciate them. Send your local hospital or surgery a gift basket. Every little bit of affirmation and appreciation may offset a wee bit of demoralisation. And think about writing to your MP…. The NHS needs us more than ever.
Carla A. Grosch-Miller