We at Cognacity have been providing support to clergy, in partnership with St Luke’s, for several years. These past months have been especially challenging for clergy. Many of the pressures that existed before Covid-19 are still challenges today, such as loneliness or guilt, but we are now facing new pressures: prolonged uncertainty and ongoing restrictions are exposing us to unprecedented amounts of stress.
Our body and brains were designed to handle stress and anxiety for short periods of time. In short bursts, stress can be motivating and energising. It can help us achieve our goals and be the best versions of ourselves. However, if we do not factor in ‘recovery time’, this healthy stress that initially energised and motivated us can become chronic stress. Keeping a healthy balance between this energising stress, and the more dangerous ‘chronic stress’ has always been difficult. If we continue to be fuelled by stress, then we eventually deplete our psychological resources and put ourselves at risk of more serious conditions, like burnout or mental ill-health.
Now, more than ever, we need to take care of our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.
One big theme that emerged over past months is our sense of a lack of control. The ability to make decisions about everyday things has been taken away from us, the end seems far away, uncertain and we have no control over it. The problem is that our minds become equally stressed by things within our control and things outside our control. This poses a significant and ongoing challenge when surrounded by uncertainty.
To improve our wellbeing, we should try to focus on what is within our control. An exercise called ‘circles of influence’ is a fantastic way to focus our mind. We can use this exercise to write down everything that’s worrying us.
Time for a list
Start by writing a list of everything that’s contributing to how you’re feeling at the moment. Next, look at each item and ask yourself, how much control do I have over this? Try to sort the items in your list into three columns:
- Within my control
- Within my influence
- Little to no control
For example, I may not have much control over government policy when it comes to COVID, so we could add that to the list of items that we have ‘little to no control over’. Alternatively, if there is a single task on our mind, we can use this exercise to break it down into different parts, which is especially useful when we don’t know where to direct our energy. What aspects of this specific problem can you control? What is out of your control but still plays on your mind?
Not only is this exercise great for directing our mind to where we have control, it also provides the therapeutic process of accepting that there are factors outside of our control and that’s part of life. Once we’ve put these stressors to the side, we can even set aside specific worry time on a regular basis to reflect on all the things that we’ve identified as ‘out of our control’.
When going about our everyday life, we are accompanied by a voice in our minds. This voice is very useful to help us work things out, remember information and direct us. However, when under pressure, this voice can often become our harshest judge, telling ourselves we should be doing more, trying harder, doing better. This internal voice is called ‘negative self-talk’ and awareness around our own types of self-talk can help us begin to gain a new perspective on our thoughts.
- Do you talk to yourself when under pressure?
- What is that voice in your head saying? Write those words down.
- Is this positive or negative self-talk?
- What would you tell a friend if they were experiencing a similar situation?
Learn to recognise that self-talk voice, listen to what it is saying, accept that it is possible to view the situation that way, but remember there are other perspectives that you could explore.
Please look out for Part 2 of this blog, to be published in December
Jake Lovelock is a psychologist at Harley Street practice Cognacity. Cognacity partners St Luke’s to provide psychiatry and psychotherapy for clergy individuals and resilience training for groups of clergy. If you would like to know more, please click here to contact St Luke’s