- You have been working hard to keep your library a valuable presence while we are doing distant learning and you still don’t know what’s coming for the fall.
- Although you have been aware of the importance of having a diverse collection for some time, Black Lives Matter has put the challenge front and center in everyone’s mind. You need to be ready to communicate to the administration and teachers the diverse resources you have acquired for your collection.
- Your own fears about the virus and coping with stresses at home which can include your children, partner, and parents combined with health and economic challenges you may be facing.
It’s a lot. You are handling so much; you don’t have time to think. And therein lies a problem.
When you don’t think – you just react and that isn’t sustainable. What you need is a mental reboot. A chance to clear your deck and allow yourself the time to get your head back in order. The first recommendation of most health practitioners is to breathe deeply. When we are harried, we shallow breathe which reduces the oxygen flow to the brain. You need your brain working on full power. Deep slow breathing helps. It also slows our heart rate, making us feel instantly calmer and more focused.
Another common recommendation is to get outside and walk. This is a favorite of mine. (Take a mask with you if there is any likelihood that you will encounter other walkers and bikers.) If there are woods nearby, so much the better. The combination of a change in scenery, fresh air, and physical activity does wonders – and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Fifteen to twenty minutes can make a difference.
After your deep breaths and walk (and any other self-care that works for you), you can then contemplate the advice given by Marcia Reynolds in How to Help Others Do a Mental Reboot. In this instance, it’s a case of “physician heal thyself.” Once you get your head back in place, you can help others do the same. She has a relatively simple two-step approach, and simple is needed now.
Her first recommendation is to do a safety check. When you feel threatened, you go into fight or flight mode which, as you know, shuts down the cognitive part of your brain. Ask yourself “Do I feel safe?” or, perhaps a better questions is “What is making me feel unsafe?” The virus is ever present in our minds, but have you been following the guidelines? Is there anything you could do differently? You have been managing it well so far. Is there any reason to think you won’t continue to do so? If you can start noticing where you’re doing well, you will start to relax.
Perhaps you’re feeling unsafe about how school will look in the fall. It may be distance learning or back to a physical space with differences. Or a combination of both. Yes, there are unknowns and things you can’t control, but, as a librarian, you are flexible and good at adapting to change. You will adjust.
You may also be feeling unsafe about job security. Many places are making cuts. To help you feel safer, up your advocacy. Consider giving your principal reports on the ways you have supporting teachers and students. Have you been talking to them about the diversity issue and what you are doing and can do to help with it? You are needed now more than ever. Be sure administrators know how vital your work is to the continued success of their school.
The second step is to take time for reflective inquiry. Reflective inquiry allows us to separate what is real from what we imagine. It’s not that we don’t have concerns, but we may be worried about things that haven’t happened. We take what we know and project it into the future.
To make a change, consider what you can do about each of the situations that have been draining you or taking up space in your thoughts. Then, decide whether to tackle the one that is most concerning or least concerning. Identify it clearly, recognizing why it has been wearing on you. Gently ask yourself
- How real is the possibility?
- What did you see/read/hear that is making you more concerned? Is the information accurate and reliable? (We’re good at checking that!)
- What can you do about it?
While advocacy should always be part of what you do, you may have been worrying unnecessarily. Even though other places may be losing jobs, that might not be the case for you. If you have a good relationship with your principal, you cab even ask about it.
Are you very worried about getting the virus? Tests are much more available now. See if you can have one done. It will be a relief to know you are not infected.
Finding the daily tasks of managing your home overpowering? Maybe you can have a family discussion and find a way to organize it better. There could be things you don’t have to do or things other people would be willing to help with.
And once you’ve taken time for doing a safety check and a reflective inquiry for yourself, you’ll be better able to check in with the people around you and give them support. Reynolds quotes John Dewey (so appropriate!) who said that provoking people to think about their thinking is the “single most powerful antidote to erroneous beliefs and autopilot.”
We’re all prone to unhelpful, panicky thoughts. Do what you can to give yourself a break. Once you do that, you’ll not only feel calmer and more focused, you’ll be able to help you colleagues and family do the same.