Reflection: Contagion and Anxiety

We have been learning medical – epidemiological language lately that we never knew existed or we would need. Growth rate, doubling time, flattening the curve, and reproduction number (R0), or the number of people who will become infected from one contagious person. The other pandemic we have seen coursing through the world at the moment is anxiety.

As a ministry leader, what is your R0 (if we can ask that)? How many people do you infect by your anxiety? Or conversely, how does your non-anxious presence serve as a buffer to anxiety among the people you serve?

It is not that there are no stresses.

Ministry as we know it as changed beyond what we might have imagined. Many, most or all of us are grappling to think about how we lead worship, do pastoral care, and engage with our community when we can barely leave our homes.

Many of us are invested in our identity as ministers, it is not that we ‘do’ ministry but that we are ministers. We still are ministers, but many of the ways we lived that identity have gone.
Financially the bases of income for our ministries, plate offerings, rentals, investment income, have shrunk or disappeared.

Our social networks and the places we network are no longer open to us in a face to face way. We are missing people: the easy chat and the serious heart to heart that we so rely on.

The gym, swimming pool, and golf club are closed so we may be finding new forms of exercise; and non-Covid medical conditions aren’t being addressed.

Families and loved ones are in other states or countries and we don’t know when we’ll see them again, or if they are ill, even if we will see them again.

Non-anxious presence.

Steinke reminds us that “To be a non-anxious presence means to acknowledge anxiety but not let it be the driver of behavior” (Steinke 2006, 37) . That is, dealing well with our anxiety is not about not having the stresses that lead to anxiety. I’ve been pretty deliberate in laying out some of the things that may be contributing to how we are feeling at the moment. As ministers how we deal with our own stress and anxiety is important in the ways that that is reflected among the people we are working with. Anxiety is strongly contagious.

Dealing with our own stress and anxiety may mean first of all that we do some things that help us to destress. We have included a link to a very short but practical ‘right now what do I do’ for physical, social, mental ways to deal with what might be stressing us (Stephens 2020) under the resources tab.
Dealing responsively rather than reactively is easier when we have had time to think calmly and creatively about our concerns.

Some of our current isolating parameters may help us build a ‘firewall’ so we can prepare to be responsive in our interactivity with councils or individuals. Reactivity, our non-thinking reactions, might be able to be dealt with before those meetings. A link to Steinke’s 5 keys to self-management so that we may be a non-anxious presence. (Steinke, Peter. 2006. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times. Hendon: Alban. Pp 44-45.)

One other thing that we can make sure we are doing in these days is staying current with supervision. That probably will mean being supervised by phone or online, which will be a new thing for many of us, and maybe new for our supervisor as well. . If your current supervisor can’t manage (either through technology or because you are facing challenges they don’t feel equipped to help you with, or other reasons) then investigate and find one who will be helpful for you for these times. CEDAL can provide guidance as to available accredited Professional Supervisors.
You will have other ways to deal with your anxiety, but the purpose of this current blog is to draw your attention to the need to be doing this. Then may your non-anxious presence encourage your people this week.

Rev Dr Christine Sorensen
Presbytery Minister (Formation and Discipleship)

Bibliography

Steinke, Peter. 2006. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times. Hendon: Alban.
Stephens, Clare. 2020. “How worried should I be?” Mamamia The Anxiety Course. Sydney, NSW, 8 April.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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