Skip to content

Stress and Compassion

Let’s face it, everyone is stressed.  Everyone has less energy to do what is required in their lives.  It doesn’t matter if we are retired or have been working flat our or were furloughed.  We are all stressed.

I don’t suppose our corner of the world has known this much stress since we were engaged in war.  Of course, that stress was different.  There were clear goals, an actual physical enemy.

Yet even then people told me they were not isolated in the same way we are now.  One woman told me she loved her war years.  She was a teenager and enjoyed the freedom of roaming her countryside with friends.  She didn’t lack much and she didn’t live in a place bombs dropped regularly.  Others also lived in places far from the threat of war and only noticed its impact in missing men.  So there was fear and stress, but there were moments of relief, unless a person you loved was engaged in the warfare.

There are parallels—missing people, a clear but invisible enemy— lurking to catch us out like a spy or invading army.  We say we have found a community spirit, but there is also a sense which our neighbours could be our enemies.  They might be the ones who bring the virus into our homes.  On the other hand, when we are out to do our job or normal other daily activities, we might be the one who brings the virus into our homes.  Work and risk for all of us brings stress.

Let’s face, everyone is stressed.  We feel disconnected and isolated.  We don’t do the things we have normally done or see the people we normally see.  We are tired.  It’s hot (today anyway!)

Just as we all grieve differently, we all have different responses to stress.  As I evaluate my stress levels, I wonder whether I can train myself to develop a new response. When someone annoys me, can I take a deep breathe and pause before I say or do anything?  Can I remember that other person thought what they did or said made sense—even if it seems crazy to me?  In my pausing, can I give them, and myself, a break?

Let’s face it, we all need a break from this stress, this virus, this time.  We aren’t going to get that for awhile so we have to do our best to simply get through.  We have to find things to laugh about, and we have to have space to cry a bit.  We have to find ways to connect, whether it’s through an open door or window or talking to a stranger in the shop.  We are all getting on with life the best we can.

Maybe it helps to remember we are not alone in this.  Maybe not, but we have never been on a personal journey that so many others share. I hope the fact we are sharing the burden of stress can help me be more compassionate to my neighbours, my ‘enemies”, and even myself.

Grieving a pandemic

Saturday as I drove away from Oxford, I felt deeply sad.  I was very glad to see our children, to laugh with them, to plan with them, to listen to their concerns and opinions.  I always learn from them.  It is a joy to share time together.  And it almost felt normal.  Yet at the end of the day I was still sad.  There were no hugs.  There is no plan for being together again.  Life is very fragile.  WE hope we will be together again but we know others who have had that joy.  We do not know what the next few weeks or months will hold. 

There have been many losses in the past few months.  People have died.  Weddings have been cancelled.  Education has been curtailed.  People have been made redundant.  Relationships have changed and ended.  The list is endless.  All of these are grief.  They are big and little things to mourn.  

Grief is a very individual thing.  There may be a cycle of grief developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross but each of us go through that cycle differently and react differently,  Some of us are very open with our grief.  I remember my shock at attending a family in A and E whose son had died.  They were literally wailing as they grieved his death.  Some of us are very private with our grief.  I remember a woman whose husband died and she said she had been taught never to cry in public.  She said, ‘You will never see me cry, but know that I do—when I am alone.’  Grief is expressed differently in each of us.

For many of us this pandemic is simply a time of survival.  We  do our best to get through the time that stretches before us.  Energy is used for work and mundane tasks.  Tomorrow is a day that holds the same.  No wonder people want to go on holiday, despite the risk.  I have a desire to escape the mundane and the grief and feel ‘normal’.  A holiday might help me pretend there is a “normal.” 

Yesterday was a lovely day with no sadness at the end, but I find I move in and out of the cycles of grief.  I am grateful for what I do have.  I miss what will not be. I deny it is as bad as it is—surely everything will be back to normal soon.  I accept life as it is.  I am slightly angry—mostly at politicians, occasionally at people who invade my space or fail to see risk the way I do.    I don’t really bargain—but society seems to do this.  Are we trading  economic recovery for increased virus or opening  schools vs closing pubs? 

There is a sixth part of grief.  Apparently, Kubler-Ross came to this before her death, but it isn’t reported often.  It is meaning.  To best survive grief we have to find meaning.  I think for many of us faith gives us the shape of meaning.  I have not yet decided what the meaning in the pandemic is.  It is being suggested that is it challenging us to slow down, to respond to the climate differently, to value those who are underpaid but do essential work.  I think perhaps seeking meaning now, while we are so enmeshed in the pandemic, reflects a desire to circumvent the work of grief.  So I wonder whether we can sit with our sadness for awhile, allow others to grieve?  Through the work of grief meaning may emerge.  I am not ready for meaing.  I just need to cry some days and laugh other days--just get through togehter.