They always say that “things come in 3’s.” You know: hearing about three friends who are expecting new babies, or three colleagues who are getting engaged, or three old school friends who get in touch on social media in the same week.
Those are the good kinds of 3’s. We get a kick out of that genre of news.
But what about the week of “bad 3’s?” Your mom has a mild stroke; the car’s transmission cranks to a halt; and you find out that your significant other has some kind of significant (negative) issue going on.
That isn’t so nice.
And yet, 48 clients await your wit, wisdom and “with-it-ness,” that quality of being tuned in and turned on to having a good time in the activity program. That’s a challenge.
How does a professional “keep calm and carry on” even when physically, mentally and emotionally drained? It isn’t simply about keeping one’s job. It becomes a point of honor and one might argue, a form of personal therapy and healing.
Some studies suggest that professions such as teaching, social work and probably their hybrid kin, activity director, are inherently stressful because one must “perform” at a very high social and emotional level every day and in spite of what is going on personally. There are no “days off” because a director must perpetually be “on” in order to remain effective.
If this is true; and it probably is, then how can one honor his or her own needs while providing a quality program?
Let’s consider the acronym CARRY ON to deconstruct seven research-based suggestions for managing difficult life challenges and disappointments while remaining true to one’s vision for a quality program. But first, a few admonitions:
1. Avoid having what we call in the South a “pity party.” Yes, take time to examine feelings, but don’t abandon all order and routine and personal habits in order to indulge in despair. It doesn’t help and it can hurt.
2. Stay clear of gossips during these tough times. It is tempting to talk, but confine your family secrets to the family or a few, trusted allies.
3. Limit your social media output unless you can maintain a certain distance and dignity. Angry or overtly desperate postings may feel cathartic for the moment, but ultimately frame one as a “loose cannon,” not a desirable quality in the helping professions.
Now, for some positive perspective:
C ancel unnecessary meetings and confine yourself to a limited, yet authentic routine. Coping for a few weeks or even months will require more energy than what one would normally expend to do seemingly ordinary tasks. Acknowledge your stress and double-check all written documents, especially email. Mistakes are more likely when one’s pre-frontal cortex is assaulted by grief, anger, or anxiety.
A sk for help in a genuine way. Be specific. For example, while I was in mourning for my dad, I asked a colleague to attend a tea for a student scholarship winner. I just wasn’t up to a lot of smiling and “chit chat” that week. While asking, consider an altruistic opportunity. Friends wanted to send food to our family. Instead, I invited them to contribute to a Water Mission’s program that our family supported. I felt loved by my friends and colleagues and also uplifted by the good that was being done in my dad’s name.
R eturn to your routine as soon as possible. Don’t cancel events, but don’t start anything new either. Find comfort in doing what you do well. There is one proviso here: Feel free to add a burst of color or a new twist to an existing event or program. The distraction and sense of satisfaction can be quite satisfying. For example, at the Harvest Celebration, instead of planning a stressful trip to the Pumpkin Patch this year, add a table where clients can “Guess the Weight” of a large pumpkin and then serve pumpkin pie to the participants.
Respect your need for rest. Instead of watching television or trolling on the Internet, take a bubble bath and tuck yourself into bed an hour earlier. Sleep restores serotonin levels, essential for healing. During this time, avoid negative news. One colleague told me that she hadn’t turned the television on for a month after a bad break-up and felt better for it.
Yearn for your loved one or your lost opportunity for a limited period and then agree to “cut if off.” What’s done is done and cannot be undone. There is danger remembering too much until you can find space to remember the good times. That said, focus on those good memories. I found this quote to be soothing: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” — From a headstone in Ireland
Open your heart and eyes to small, beautiful gifts. Notice the sunset. Appreciate your ability to go to work and to move and talk and be creative. These are not small things. These are wonderful gifts. Treat them as such.
Network with positive people, especially those who have knowledge of and respect for what you are now enduring. But, this is only advisable if these individuals have made a successful recovery from or transition through what you are suffering. Positive energy begets more positive energy. Like attracts like.
The original saying “Keep calm and carry on” was from a British propaganda poster, issued in 1939, to help raise the morale of the citizenry in the wake of German bombings.
Perhaps you are feeling “attacked” by life these days, with multiple conflicts and challenges sapping energy and enthusiasm. Take a deep breath and sip a cup of tea and like our friends “across the pond” in WW2 ... just carry on.
Dr. Linda Karges-Bone is a professor at Charleston Southern University and creator of the “Prayerful Parenting” radio program heard nationally on the Family Radio Network. She and her husband, Gary, live in Summerville.