Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Season's Grievings

One of the most difficult parts of working at any work college is learning how to navigate other people’s stress patterns, especially toward the end of the academic year.  Tensions ride high, for those who hold high expectations, particularly as students’ energy levels and initiative become inverse toward those expectations.  Often times, students become overwhelmed, and by this point in the semester, the faculty and staff must juggle accommodating those needs, albeit negotiating how to allocate the remaining tasks for the semester or work around students who may be at risk or suddenly develop special needs, like athletes game schedules or a family health problem makes your job a little more complicated, or your own life outside of work even gets a little bit too life-y.  I’ve noticed a pattern that seasonally, grandmothers have the tendency to get very ill during the weeks leading up to finals.  

When all of the obligations we tie ourselves to begin to spread us too thin, we first begin to cut the activities and little indulgences that we often find to be restorative and edifying – promising ourselves that when things “finally” slow down, we will take these hobbies up again.  And suddenly our focus shifts more toward staying afloat by steamrolling through our assignments through hell or high-water.  We begin to lose ourselves; through sleepless nights, missed breakfasts, and that repetitive panicked morning rush to class, back and forth to the office, just trying to stay afloat as we spiral down the path of frustrated guilt, anxiety and self neglect – all the while knowing that all it takes is one small snag to make everything we’ve worked so hard for unravel… and that we’re increasingly closer and closer to it.

Empathy, slowing down, focusing upon the present all become attributes that we view as unobtainable luxury; an indulgence we can afford to immerse ourselves in, when all the while our brains and intuition long and crave for that.  If we don’t find ourselves shutting down, we find other ways to make ourselves unavailable using other forms of self-resistance.  We become angstier, angrier, easily affected by others’ lack of accountability and frustrated.  We occasionally discover accumulated resentments that we didn’t even know were there.  It’s as if the change in weather crams us deep down inside ourselves, and although we long to burst free from the flurry of our unresolved obligations and complications, and each day becomes harder than the day before. 

Needless to say, I naively thought I had found the secret toward avoiding all of that.  Work/Life balance, that’s the secret to managing your own stress.  I teased one of my more scattered students juggling a sport and physics major (a somewhat impossible feat at this college) about his time management skills, chiding that “chance favors the prepared mind.”  What I found, however, is that even though I had found a way to reduce my own stress levels, by setting clear boundaries, limiting myself to one service activity, and going home every day at 5 (or somewhat close to it), the anniversary of the murder of my brother’s roommate (which took place right before Thanksgiving) did leave me a little unhinged.  I didn’t realize it until a week later, that in addition to navigating the misdirected anger of some of my co-workers that I was also grieving the loss of my family.  My brother and his family moved across the country just so that he could feel as if he could finally walk safely down the street again without having to look over his shoulder – ironically, enough the very reason I had moved to Kentucky to be near him, because I felt the same kind of anxiety (due to previous challenges with domestic violence) back home.  All of this time now, and the freedom to enjoy it, and I’d lost the one relationship I wanted to salvage because some disgruntled intruder had disrupted his peace at home. 
I couldn’t even take a harsh scolding at work this time of year with a grain of salt without being reminded of just layers and layers of messy memories, before I found myself spiraling along with everyone else into an epic inner battle between my need to overcome these obstacles and my (what would be understandable) subconscious desire to:

make sense of why I felt so toxic
fix the problem
and use every coping mechanism I could think of to be happy again.

Consequently, despite my best attempts, my brain was on overload and some of my efforts turned out kind of pathetically.


In fact, it wasn’t until after I’d spoken with my brother’s wife and realized that even she had buried herself into a nest of obligations and alienating resentment at work in order to allow herself to allow herself the space to love and accommodate my brother’s needs from a distance, that I realized how my efforts would be best be served.  

According to the two books I was working through, Psychology of Religious Knowing and the Wisdom of Yoga (I had to take a break from Ed Underwood’s book, “when God Breaks your heart” because it was a little too intense), I discovered that I would be best served to find a way to make peace with the fact that I felt bad and then use that time as an opportunity to shift my attention toward creating positive associations, rather than feeding any residual guilt.  And the results worked well.  It appears that this newfound discovery also aligned with what God wanted for me as well, as the Sunday Sermon at my local church talked about how we ensure that we heal our misplaced hurts in ways that can enable us to be more understanding and more comforting to one another (b/c evidently lashing out at people has become a norm in our society – which is weird b/c I tend to be more like those people who goes into seclusion whenever I feel too drained to give effectively), so that was at least helpful to learn so that I don’t take it personally.  

Which is good!  Because I found that being able to release that expectation of feeling valued or disappointment when others misplace their anger toward me allowed me to see those who have extended kindness as a blessing – once I realized that civility was not an entitlement in this day and age, but a privilege –because frankly, I’ve grown quite accustomed to people treating me with kindness and courtesy.  Maybe it’s just something I take for granted, but ever since reading Cloud and Townsend’s book on boundaries, I make an effort, through the behavior that I model, to establish those boundaries early.  I also defend them firmly but respectfully; even when I need to wrestle with myself a little bit.  There have been several afternoons where I have forced myself to walk away from an activity that I was excited about, but a bit afraid of, because I didn’t want to condition myself to respond to negative self talk, or any personal view that I deemed to be remotely derogatory.  I have an understanding that we all have the tendency to accept the love that we believe we deserve.  So I am always looking for positive reinforcements or affirmative inducements to condition myself to develop the skills I need.  

Here are a few helpful reminders I found that helped me to navigate this tough period effectively.

 Seriously, put your search engines to work.  Just as your search crawlers and search engine optimization tools like Google has that sometimes creepy connection with the ads in your Twitter and Facebook feed, similarly, you can manipulate your search engines to life coach you through the tough times by being selective about which material you interact with in those feeds.  If it inspires you, brings you cheer, or makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, be sure to click like.  When you don't know what's wrong with you, do searches online to see if you can pinpoint the answer and watch how your feeds begin to pour in self help information or inspirational messages that appear with eerily pinpoint accuracy.  Don't believe me, check out my next post; stress management tips that popped up in my feed when I was using this method to try to figure out how to manage stress better this Thanksgiving.  I just wish I had have thought of it sooner, I might have saved myself A LOT of money during my pre-black Friday retail therapy.  (Damn you express, for holding that 50% off sale 3 days early, thus capitalizing upon my fear of retail stores around the holidays and my secret desire to self soothe with shopping).

Also, don't be afraid put those endorphins to work.  Exercise, a good support network, the realization that what you don't have can be a tremendous gift and give you the freedom to take care of yourself can help you navigate the holidays.  If you know how to stimulate your serotonin levels effectively, you can find a multitude of ways to biochemically trick yourself into feeling happy without the use of mind altering drugs.

Scott Adams once said that "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."  I believe the same can be true when you allow yourself to take ownership of your emotions
and know which ones to keep.


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