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Survival Skills for the Government Employee

My daughter texted me this morning in a panic. She is a freshman in college and an athlete on one of their teams. She typed a list of things going on that were overwhelming her that included studying for midterms, doing projects for class, packing for a trip to Florida with her team, car problems, uncertainty about return dates to school due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Although it was just a text, I could feel the panic in her words. It is so hard to help calm your newly minted adult child during so much stress. What could I do to help her?

I suspect that we have all been similar circumstances be it panic with a loved one, a colleague or within yourself. Perhaps the onslaught of news about the coronavirus pandemic is creating a level of panic for you now?

My experience as a mental health provider, as a mediator and as a parent, I have learned how to use some simple techniques to calm a situation. What I have discovered is that we often feel anxiety, stress, panic in times that we are out of control – or perceive a loss of control. What I have also realized is that many of these simple tools can help us in our jobs as government employees.

Our jobs are incredibly stressful not only because of the nature of the job itself but also because we are public servants. As public servants, we don’t get the luxury of staying home when times get tough. We are the people that are turned to in order to assist others during tough times. Stress comes at us from many different angles including colleagues, supervisors, customers, new mandates, new technology and now a pandemic – and these are only work-related stressors.

We cannot forget as human beings, we have personal stress factors as well. In addition, we often have directives, requirements, projects that are forced upon us by outside decision-making bodies. I admit that when I started working in government, this was particularly challenging for me.

It took some time to figure out strategies to work productively while managing the unique stressors I was facing. I would like to share some of the best strategies with you.

Strategies to Manage the Challenges We Face:

  • Relax – practicing relaxation techniques will help you feel calmer, happier and better able to help others. This means taking a moment to visualize a calming place, or slowing down just a step to refocus, reprioritize and regroup.
  • Protect your own health – eat well, get enough sleep, exercise and do things you enjoy. We really can’t do the best for others until and unless we do the best for ourselves.
  • Ask for help and accept the help when it has been offered – When someone offers to help you, take them up on it. This can be from family members or colleagues.
  • Take a break – actually take a break, take a day or a moment for yourself to rejuvenate
  • Turn the news and social media off – In times of high anxiety, such as a disaster, pandemic or other crises, it is easy to become consumed with the news reports about the issue. This also contributes to our own fears and panic. Limiting the amount of time spent tuning in to the news can help reduce stress.
  • Join a group – talk out frustrations with others in your situation, join a lunch group or coffee klatch.

Simple Techniques to Diffuse Job Stress throughout the Day:

  • Body scan –lower tense shoulders, loosen your grip on that pen
  • Slow down/Don’t rush – Pay attention to rushing. Slow down and take your time, stay in the right lane and drive the speed limit
  • Take a moment – sit in your car for a moment before you run into work
  • Breathe deeply – set aside some time to take some deep abdominal breaths
  • Eat slowly – don’t gobble your lunch or eat at your desk
  • Congratulate yourself – each day, acknowledge your accomplishments
  • Get comfortable – when you get home, change out of your work clothes

Two Additional Tactics that have been Particularly Helpful:

  • “Soft Belly” – a simple meditative technique that can be practiced at any time and can help alleviate anxiety. Focus on taking some slow full breaths which fill your abdominal area.   As your abdominal area begins to relax with each deep breath, you will notice the relaxation radiating to your limbs. This simple technique can help you master physical, mental and emotional responses in difficult times.
  • The Serenity Prayer – to help you achieve peace of mind and focus on your circle of influence or locust of control, the first verse of this prayer can help regain footing. This can help you in your job as a government employee and to circumstances in your personal life that are both in and out of direct control. Placing the first verse above my computer screen was a particularly helpful tool when faced with daily challenges:

“Grant me the Serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Outcome:

So, how did I respond to my daughter who was feeling so anxious and overwhelmed? I reminded her to focus on what she could control: completing her projects, studying for midterms and packing for Florida (which was ultimately canceled). So much of what was happening around her was out of her control and was not worth the energy or angst. With that, she regrouped and moved forward with her day – and hopefully learned a little life lesson along the way.

Kathleen Glow-Morgan is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker that has been employed by the Veterans Health Administration since 2008. She currently works as a National Transformational Coach Captain and Health Systems Specialist within the Office for Veterans Access to Care. Ms. Glow-Morgan is a Certified Alternate Dispute Resolution Mediator and a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Ms. Glow-Morgan has expertise in conflict management, communication strategies, coaching and change management. She has presented at numerous national conferences and workshops. 

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