Take Time to Get Outside

We live in an almost constant state of stress, and this was true before the pandemic added a new layer and level. In the words of the late comedienne Gilda Radnor, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” There is nothing new in our need to deal with too much pushing in on us. One of the best methods of managing stress is taking time out of usual environments and, if possible, into nature.

The Romantic poet. William Wordsworth wrote this sonnet around 1802.

The World Is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Apparently even back then, “getting and spending” was a preoccupation,” and we were already out of touch with nature. “We are out of tune” – then and now.

Getting out is about moving at the pace of your choice.  It’s taking the time to see the world around you. It’s about greeting people as you go. And it’s about thinking– literally — outside the box that is the place you work.

We need to make getting out a priority in our lives. No matter our work and life schedule, we benefit from choosing a way to destress. The caveat is the choosing because what we mostly see is where there is too much to complete, too many errands to run – and doing errands is not getting out.

So, with all you have to and need to do, how can you get out? Ryan Tahmaseb proposes 7 Ways to Get Outside More Often. Hopefully, one or more of these will work for you, and the benefits are enormous.

  1. Schedule a walk – Until this becomes a habit, you need to put it on your to-do list. Plan the time.  Will you do it at lunch?  If so, you will come back energized and are likely not to experience the afternoon slump. Does the timing of your free period work better?  Or maybe it’s after you get home and before starting dinner – or even after dinner. Whatever works, schedule it. Tahmaseb suggests, consider going with a friend.  You will hold each other accountable. Think about what best fits you and your life.  Set yourself up for success.
  2. Take Phone Calls Outside – This can be a great addition to any personal calls you make.  It’s not my favorite idea since your mind is preoccupied with whatever is happening on the phone, which may be stressful, but you are breathing outside air and that helps. It may encourage you to get off the phone faster and since you’re already outside – stay a little longer.
  3. Move Small Meetings Outside – This may not be an available option but is worth considering to see if it’s an option.  The meeting is likely to go better. Suggest it to your principal or a committee chair. 
  4. Eat Outside – You can eat your lunch, and then go for a walk.  Burn off the calories.  You may enroll any lunch companions to join you. Before long you might have a cadre of walkers. Even just sitting in the sun for that time with a book will lighten your stress.
  5. Try Walking Meetings – If it’s no more than 3 or 4 people, this may be a possibility. You can record your notes as you go.  It is worth trying and it may stimulate creative approaches to the discussion. Or make meetings go faster!
  6. Bring Your Work Outside – If you can’t afford to give up the work you do during your free period, do it outside. The work will feel easier.  You will breathe better.  And you may find, as I do, the creative juices flow when you are outside.
  7. Just Take a Short Break – Step outside for a few minutes.  If you are attuned to it, you will be aware of the change in your mindset.  If you can’t eat outside, try to finish lunch a little early and take those minutes to yourself.

There is no doubt that changing your environment can change your outlook and being outside can almost instantly change your mood. Watch for the birds, notice the clouds. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Do what you can to get into the habit of going outside now.  It will be easier to continue it when winter comes. You will be healthier and less stressed if you do.

ON LIBRARIES – Do You Need a Mental Reboot?

Are you feeling drained?  Let’s see why:

  • 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.

ON LIBRARIES – Relax, Reflect, Resolve

change of yearSoon 2015 will be history.  The good and the bad becoming personal or national memories.  At midnight on Thursday, we will usher in 2016 filled with promises, hopes, and dreams.  It’s a good time for a pause in our busy lives.

Relax – You have been busy. Before the winter break began you were working hard to finish up, leaving your library and program in a relatively orderly state so it will be easy to pick up again in January.  At the same time, you were also getting ready for the holidays. The holiday season, no matter how enjoyable, usually adds stress to your already stress-filled life.relax

Give yourself permission to relax now. The holidays are behind us.  School doesn’t resume for a whole week. Read the book you have been meaning to get to.  Binge on the programs you haven’t had time to watch.  Take a bubble bath if you enjoy them.  Treat yourself to lunch with a friend.

I love to walk.  It energizes me, clears my head, and works like meditation does for some people. When I walk I think, but I also greet people who are out and about.  I have come to know neighbors I wasn’t aware of despite living in my home for over forty years.  I watch the changing of the seasons and see who is making improvements to their home – and then go back to thinking.

Whatever is your favorite form of relaxation, now is the time to indulge.  You have been drained. You have been taking care of everyone else.  The one who most needs your attention now is you. At this point, you are your priority.  If you don’t get the relaxation your body craves, you will not be ready for the New Year.

Reflect – January, as you know, is named for Janus Roman god of doorways and arches. He is the god of beginnings and transitions, and is depicted as two-headed, looking back and forwards.  The perfect symbol for moving from one year to the next.

In between making time to relax, also plan to reflect.  Focus first on your successes.  What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2015 (hint: it doesn’t have to be about work)?  What are you most grateful for?  Recognize the good things you have.  It calms the spirit and gives you a positive outlook on life.reflect

Next, consider what you want to achieve.  Where do you want to go before the school year ends?  What have you learned that you want to incorporate into your program?  Also, what can you let go so your life is not as stress-filled?  Accept that you can’t do everything.  What best fits your priorities?  If you try to do it all, you won’t be able to give your best to them. And that can mean to  family and friends.  I know many of you stay long past dismissal and come home far too tired to enjoy what is most important.

Lastly, recognize what didn’t work.  What did you attempt that never got off the ground?  What got in the way?  Is it as important as you thought? If so, what can you differently? Did you mishandle a relationship?  In retrospect, what could you have done differently?  We don’t always react well under stress so using this time can prepare us for handling a similar situation better in the future. Is there any way you can mend the breach?

resolveResolve – This is the season for New Year’s resolutions.  Having spent time reflecting, you are ready to make some.  Be realistic.  If you have over five resolutions and attempt to make huge changes, you are setting yourself up for failure. Have an action plan with a few simple steps so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment which will inspire you to continue.

I’m happy to share mine with you

My Resolutions – I will continue walking at least three times a week. In bad weather, I will walk in circles around my house and my Fit-bit will keep me on track.  I will also go to a big box store or the supermarket in bad weather and put my coat in a shopping cart and push it around the store and look for changes in displays so I don’t get bored.

I will get back to writing the sequel to Woven through Time which I pushed aside when I began preparing for my two online courses and other presentations.  I will write four or more days a week, striving for 1,000-1,500 words per week so I don’t feel pressured as to how long I write on any given day.    Exceeding the goal will make me feel very successful.

How are you using your time off from school?  What resolutions are you making?