By Kim Stamp
Hello, and welcome to December 154th!
I don’t know about you, but I was waiting with anticipation for 2020 to come to a close so that we could begin a fresh, new year. Clearly, I was delusional in my hopes. We ushered in 2021 with limited fanfare after being burnt out on all things COVID, and things seemed to head downhill shortly thereafter. Most, if not all of us, are experiencing fatigue like we have never previously experienced in our careers and, if you manage a staff or department, you are likely also working overtime to help your staff combat that same fatigue with no clear end in sight. Now, more than ever, we need to figure out a strategy for making it through this seemingly endless period we are in with the hope that we will come out of this in one piece.
Recently, I learned a valuable bit of insight that has helped me combat the daily stressors that threaten to overwhelm me. This insight revolves around the realization that we are all experiencing something we have never been through before. Additionally, the terrain seems to be constantly shifting, causing us to learn new things and new ways of coping on a regular basis.
Those of us in a management role are used to juggling lots of priorities and responsibilities and solving lots of problems, all of which we are generally comfortable dealing with. Not so through most of 2020 and now continuing into 2021. We are uncovering new realities on a weekly basis and encountering situations we’ve never dealt with before. Initially, I was OK with just trying to survive but, now that we are more than a year into this pandemic, I am weary of survival mode. So, let me share with you a few tips I have gleaned that may also be inspiring to you as we continue to walk through this season of uncertainty.
GIVE YOURSELF GRACE
Recently, I was listening to a podcast and the speaker mentioned that we need to reframe things under the heading of “first times.” When we learn anything for the first time we do not expect ourselves to be good at it, we just expect to make some progress on our way to becoming proficient. So, remind yourself that you’ve never done this before, and then take a minute to let that sink in. If we reframe our current experiences with a “first time” attitude, we will likely not expect so much of ourselves. We also need to apply this to our staff and colleagues and allow them room to adjust and learn.
DEVELOP A MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
The whole idea of mindfulness can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Think of this as a difference between “mind-full” and “mindful” and you will get the essence of what I’m talking about. It is as simple as taking five minutes to do a breathing exercise in your office or car during which you count your breaths in and out for however many repetitions you are comfortable with. Make sure your breaths are slow and deliberate and count an inhale as one and the exhale as two, and so on.
Another mindfulness exercise is to go outside and take a walk around the block while listening to your feet make contact with the pavement. By focusing on the sound of your feet, you are taking your mind off of the endless supply of problems you need to solve or the items on your to-do list. This exercise also connects you with something tangible (the ground), which is helpful to combat spinning thoughts. Anything that brings you into the present and helps you to focus can be used as a mindfulness exercise.
CREATE TIME AWAY FROM WORK TO REVITALIZE
Early on in the pandemic, I went several months without any kind of vacation or time away from work and it seemed as though work was always resonating in the background. This was compounded by the fact that I was working from home in order to limit the number of bodies within the clinic. No longer did I look forward to the weekends, because there was not much to look forward to. I learned that carving out time that was computer- and email-free was a necessity. I needed to feel like I was getting time that was disconnected from work, and that meant putting my phone in airplane mode and avoiding my home office for a period of time on the weekends.
I also took a half day to drive to the ocean and have lunch on the beach. This was something that felt like a departure from “normal life” and I have learned that water is my place to rejuvenate and recharge. So, sitting in a camp chair on the beach for an hour or two was mentally refreshing. What, or where, is your “happy place”?
DO SOMETHING NICE FOR SOMEONE ELSE
Sometimes, it is helpful to focus on someone else in need in order to get us out of a cycle of feeling frustrated or fearful about all that seems wrong in our world. There are times when we need to focus on self-care and there are times we need to turn our focus to others. Offer to help a neighbor or do some other random act of kindness you’re comfortable with. Offer to buy coffee for your staff on a Wednesday or schedule a Zoom happy hour with a friend. There are so many things that we can do to shift our focus for a little bit.
We have a fairly significant homeless population in our city. Each winter we like to go to the dollar store and purchase socks, gloves, beanies, and snacks, which we then put in gift bags. We take those gift bags and drive around town and hand them out the window to various homeless folks we pass by. This is a simple, low-cost activity that helps us concentrate on someone who is a lot less fortunate than we are. And, in doing so, we feel a little better about the problems we ourselves are dealing with.
I realize this is a more personal, motivational article but it’s time to connect with one another. I continue to believe that, at some point, things are going to get significantly better and we will move into a more normal way of life. I am also fairly sure that some of the practices we have adopted during the pandemic will stick once things get to a healthier place. I long for the days when we can go out with friends or plan a vacation without wondering what will be open and available. I also long for a time that isn’t fraught with a constant worry about what we are being exposed to in the grocery store! Those days are coming I’m sure, but until then, let’s take these tips from the trenches and see if we can make the most of the here and now.
Kim Stamp is a PPS Certified Administrator and the Business Director for IRG – South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Washington State. She can be reached at Kim.Stamp@irgpt.com.