Over time, if the pressures do not ease or changes to relieve the stress are not made then there is an increased risk of experiencing stress related symptoms which may develop into physical illness and / or eventually burn-out.
Although some degree of stress is motivational and helpful, clergy are particularly vulnerable to accumulating excessive stress levels because of the nature of their job which includes multiple roles and responsibilities. The unrealistic expectations of others, the lack of boundaries associated with the role and often little collegial or line managerial support are also contributory factors.
People who are ordained priests are first of all human beings and as such are vulnerable to the same limitations faced by the rest of the world. However, wearing a dog collar can evoke unattainable expectations of behaviour both from within the individual and also from others.
There is a tendency amongst some people to see clergy as ‘super human’, even Christ-like. Sometimes as a result clergy are at risk of perceiving themselves in this way. This can become an unbearable pressure, experienced as a long list of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’. For example:
- “I should be compassionate and available even if it means repeated interruptions to my work, mealtimes and day off”
- “It is part of the sacrificial life to accept whatever others require of me”
Boosting resilience and keeping stress at bay
As a starting point, make sure you are keeping the basics going:
- Eat healthily
- Drink enough water
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Do something you enjoy every day
- Protect your day off for rest and relaxation
- Maintain connection with family and friends
The beneficial impact of consciously paying attention to these basic activities on a daily basis cannot be underestimated. Having all these in place provides a solid foundation for managing stress well.
You don’t need to memorise long lists of signs and symptoms which might indicate that you are becoming stressed but you can recognise what your personal responses are to stress. There will be some demands on you that you can’t do anything about, but you can take some action. You may need to reduce the pressures on you, change your expectations of yourself or limit the time you spend in stressful circumstances.