Understanding Stress and Trauma in Self and Church Community

Understanding Stress and Trauma in Self and Church Community

We are all living with the reality of uncertainty at this moment in time. Our world as we knew it has been turned upside down by the pandemic, social injustice, health inequity, social injustice, racism, economic uncertainty and violence in our communities, our nation, and the world.

While some people have been thriving during the pandemic, many have experienced traumatic events such as the loss of loved ones, parents, children, spouses, jobs, socialization, and educational opportunity. These realities have left many challenged by high stress, burnout, and trauma that over time impact mental health and well-being.

Clergy and lay leaders are not immune to the effects of high stress events. While striving to care for the flock, care of self is sometimes neglected, and boundaries may get blurred.

Parents, children, and all individuals are impacted. Research on mental health and COVID-19 reported by Mental Health America demonstrates the increasing mental health concerns and the need for additional support to prevent future mental health conditions as a result of trauma, especially for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color individuals, families and communities.  

Recognizing and understanding the impact of trauma, the symptoms of high stress, and knowing the resources available can promote post-traumatic growth. To start this conversation, it is important to understand the meaning of trauma, or high stress, and the impact on our collective bodies. Then we can engage in post-traumatic growth. Rev. Fred Meade will get us started in this conversation.

Rev. Fred Meade* writes that the word “trauma” is now somewhat of a buzz word. "The idea of trauma to oneself is something deeply personal and for many it is difficult to talk about because it is often a personal as well as a very painful experience. Earlier life traumas may exist in our unconscious without us even realizing it, these traumas may affect our daily life decisions," he said. 

"It is important to know the difference between a normal reaction to a difficult moment and an abnormal reaction to a difficult experience. As a disaster chaplain, I have spoken to hundreds of people on the worst days of their lives. I know what deep grief looks like after someone has lost a loved one, a home or a job. Those emotions alone can be overwhelming. Those emotions are a normal reaction to a difficult event."  

We now know that about 80% of Americans polled after natural disasters will recover on their own without any mental health interventions. Another 10 percent will have Post Traumatic Stress and another 10% will end up with PTSD if the stress symptoms continue after 30 days. They will need to talk to a licensed mental therapist with a trauma informed care background. Not all licensed therapists have this background. 

If one has a trauma experience, it is important to see if your current daily behavior is any different than it was before you were traumatized. It is important to look at the five areas that stress plays out in our lives which are body, mind, emotions, behaviors, or relationships and lastly your spirituality. Asking oneself if any of those areas have changed since the trauma occurred may be a key to understanding how deeply you were affected by your trauma experience.

Knowing ahead of time how you can help yourself can be a vital tool for growth in healing. For example, for the body: “What helps you to work out stress? Going for a walk? Yoga? Eating healthy? A healthy sleep schedule? All these ideas and more can help get people back on track. We all need to ask what we need to do when stress plays a significant part in our lives in any of those five areas. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that everyone’s health routine for combatting stress is different. What works for one may not work for someone else. 

The Health and Wellness Team, Center for Transformational Leadership, Area Conference Ministers, and the Disaster Ministries Team are collaborating to offer a series of programs to address the ways a church community might respond to one another, the congregation, and the community through a trauma informed lens.

The first virtual workshop on this topic will be held May 19 from 12 noon – 1:30 PM, entitled A Community Response to Tragedy: One Link at a Time.  The workshop will be presented by Kathleen Zagata, the Health Minister at Winchester, MA. She is clinical nurse specialist in Community Mental Health and a Marion Woodman Body-Soul Rhythms trained leader. For 12 years during the Iraq War, she facilitated a group for families of deployed soldiers and veterans. Currently, she provides wellness counseling for those facing health and lifestyle challenges.  


Fred William Meade

Rev. Fred Meade has been involved in Chaplin disaster training for the last 7 years after serving in a church in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina; presents workshops on self-care, resiliency, and appropriate trauma responses nationally for The ...

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Debbie Ringen

Debbie Ringen supports the Conference vision to make God’s love and justice real through wellness ministry at the Conference and local church level. In addition to providing resources, educational workshops, blogs and networking opportunities, she is...

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