The stress. It’s back. You knew it would happen, but maybe you were hoping it wouldn’t come back quite so quickly. At the beginning of the school year I blogged about this (Stressed Out) and I made mention of the distinction between being stressed and distressed. A recent article I read, and the fact we’re at the beginning of a different type of year, made me think it might be a good time to look at this challenge again.
Stress can simply be having a lot on your plate, but you know what to, how to do it, and in what order to do it. If you are like me, that kind of stress is exhilarating. It’s an adrenaline high. I’m getting things done with ease, moving from one task to another. I feel like a superhero. If it goes on too long that level of stress is exhausting, but it feels great at the time.
The problem is when you are distressed. As in the first instance, you have a lot on your plate but instead of feeling energized, you’re so overwhelmed you move from one task to the next never able to catch your breath. You don’t have time to think about the best order for tackling the jobs. You take them as they come up regardless of their actual priority. Exhaustion sets in quickly, but you still keep moving.
There is nothing good about distress. It keeps you from being your best, and from being a leader. It causes a negative mindset that spirals downward and drains the passion you have for being a librarian.
Making distress worse is that most of the people around you, who all too often include your students, are also in “distress.” It seems the whole world is overworked, overtired, and overextended. In that state, people get angry quickly and say things they really don’t mean. Which leads to more stress/distress.
Your administrators are frequently in the same situation, which you can usually tell by how they are interacting with you and others in your school. ASCD, the national organization for supervisors, recognizes the importance of stress management and recently ran a column by Chase Mielke in their newsletter entitled The Five D’s of Destressing. Here they are, tweaked for school librarians.
- Distract from It – Good teachers and parents know when a kid is getting frustrated or angry, the best intervention is a distraction. You pull the child from focusing on the source of distress and onto something else. It’s an instant change of mindset. Adults need to distract as much as kids. If possible, go for a walk. Open junk mail. Check the shelves to see if any need to be made less tight. Even a short funny video that always makes you laugh can help. Anything that will move you from the source of your immediate stress.
- Deal with It – Why would this work? It’s what you were doing trying to do when you became so stressed. The idea here is to really focus. Take stock of the situation. Is it something that must be handled? Now? If so, what are your options? Depending on what the issue is, apply strategies to resolve and/or work with it.
Can it be an opportunity rather than a problem? Being required to cover a class (or having an extra class come in because of a problem with their room) can turn into an opportunity to introduce them to a new resource or app. If you think, “How can I use this as a teachable moment?” you are likely to come up with a solution.
If a class went badly, and you are beating yourself up about it. Pause. It happens to the best of us. Take a moment to reflect as to what you might have done differently, and then put it out of your mind. It’s over. As Judith Viorst so wisely observed in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, “Some days are like that.”
- Dispute your Distortions – We tend to think in negative extremes when we are stressed. “This was the worst…” “I never get this right.” Recognize that these absolutes are false.
Mielke proposes you use Martin Seligman’s methods:
- Review the evidence: Was it really a total disaster?
- Question the usefulness: How is this getting me to a positive outcome?
- Check the implications: How does this measure up in the larger scheme of things?
- Consider the alternatives: What was at the root of the problem?
- Discuss It – Bring it to your PLN of librarians whether on a listserv or a Facebook group. They have all been there at one time or another. Get it off your chest where it’s creating a big lump. Journaling is another alternative for many. You might even discuss it with students, modeling how to deal with situations that cause stress.
- Develop Frontal Control – When you become highly stressed your brain identifies it as a danger. You go into flight or fight mode. Your limbic system takes over replacing the cerebral cortex. Cognitive thinking flees. The response is automatic. You can’t stop it from happening, but you can shut it down by recognizing it. Take those deep breaths. Review those first four recommendations, especially the distraction solution. Allow the thinking part of your brain to take back control.
The good news is that Mielke’s advice is great. The bad news is that it won’t always work, particularly if your distress has been building. Do your best to turn into your body and your mind right now and then do a little bit more tomorrow. Identify the warning signs so you can institute preventative measures before the situation gets too bad.