Embodied Stress

I must say that I feel about a million times better, having announced to my church that I will be reappointed. This appointment was finalized pretty quickly (because it’s so late in the year, especially), but it still felt like an eternity from my first contact with a District Superintendent about the churches to the time I could actually make the announcement. That meant two Sundays (one with only an inkling– “would you be not totally opposed to considering a new appointment…” an one knowing that I had said yes to the interview and was about 99% sure I’d be moving) where I couldn’t say anything to anyone in my church about it, not to mention the meetings and potluck supper and phone conversations and visits.

So for about two or three weeks, I was carrying around nervousness and anxiety and sorrow and a whole bunch of other stuff.

I had nightmares. When I graduated from college and again from seminary, I had dreams each time of my friends dying. Obviously, my not-so-subtle subconscious’ way of working though the fear of losing relationships with people I care about. The four intervening years of pastoring, however, have made my brain more detail-oriented. Most unfortunately, these nightmares were more complex, involving detail about my friends and congregants and their own fears. Yikes!

So I was a little short on sleep. Let’s not even talk about the comfort food and drink, shall we?

And then there was the normal repository of stress: the muscles of my shoulders and back. Apparently, my shoulders got filled up and a little numb. Sunday morning before I announced I was leaving, I literally thought I was having a heart attack for a second, so intense was the squeezing pain in my chest, which I then realized was actually a muscle behind my left shoulder blade going into spasms and radiating forward. Nice.

By the time I got home from church on Sunday, my back felt fine. I took a nap. Since then I’ve enjoyed dream-free sleep. I’ve even stopped eating massive amounts of chocolate.

All this is to say that ministry is a tough and stressful job sometimes, made moreso by the system itself and the commitments and confidentiality that have to be kept. At the same time, as pastors we make a commitment to care for our own health, too, and that is no small task! Especially not when sleep is nightmare-laden, unspoken words knot up in our shoulders, and the Ben and Jerry’s is close at hand.

And so once again, I find appropriate irony in this week’s lectionary. I’m ready for an easy yoke and a light burden.

What stresses you out? How do you take care of yourself in a stressful situation?

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2 Responses

  1. normal stresses for me (ie, things *not* involving cadaver labs) result in a wonderful thing my friends and i have coined “EISI” ‘Exam Induced Stomach Ick’. and, since this this a more professional blog i’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that for the 2-3 weeks of finals we have each semester, i live almost solely on cheerios, rice checks and cornflakes (sometimes without the milk) and buckets of peppermint tea (anytime i try to eat anything else).

    real stress results in nightmares (even when napping), muscle twitches, and sometimes mini-hallucinations.

    how are the shoulders doing?? got any feeling back yet? 🙂

  2. I watch others slap each other with fish, if you like the British- you know what I’m talking about.

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