Every library has its spikes and lulls of programs, traffic and behind-the-scenes craziness. Some staff feel like they are running full-throttle almost constantly, while others feel immobilized when the quiet time comes because there is just so much to catch up on they don’t even know where to start. No matter where you are on this libraryland rollercoaster, the reality is that many of us feel exhausted and overwhelmed. So exhausted and overwhelmed we might not even bother reading to the end of this blog post. I live there, too.
Many of us were drawn into library service, especially if we are in public or school libraries, out of a deep need to serve others. Some of us get that need met while we maintain the website, or update the ILS, while some of us spend hours delivering reader’s advisory, answering the phone, shelving books, planning the perfect program, tackling next year’s budget, or making tea and coffee for a staff meeting. In other words, a lot of our identity is invested in being helpful. A refrain I hear over and over again as I scroll through the day’s posts on ALA Think Tank  and other Facebook librarian groups is, “I help people everywhere! I just can’t help myself!” There is even a great picture book called "The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians " about a young boy who is pampered and educated and encouraged by three local librarians who take him under their wings and he grows up to be an eager librarian himself. The wonderful message in the book is that the librarians are always caring and helpful “because that’s just how librarians are.” But what about when we can’t? Sometimes our need to be busy and productive becomes more of a workplace hazard than an asset. And often we can’t stop, until life, unfortunately, forces us to, through either illness, injury, loss or a combination of all three.
Here are some little tips that have helped me through the worst of it and I thought might help you too:
- Breathe. Seems obvious, but when we’re stressed or uncomfortable we tend to hold our breath or breathe shallowly. Take some deep, slow breaths. Some people find it helpful to put a “ding” (bell) reminder on their phone/desktop/watch every 30 minutes to remind them to breathe and to get up and move around. I used to be a heavy smoker until I figured out that what I really loved about smoking was the opportunity to “check out” and just breathe really deeply (albeit by inhaling gobs of chemicals) while having a break from whatever I was focusing on. Once I realized that, I just took deep breaths and closed my eyes with a pen held between my fingers every time I wanted a cigarette and the craving would eventually pass and my mind would wander to something else.
- Read Cheryl Richardson’s "The Art of Extreme Self Care ." Especially the chapter Let Me Disappoint You. Now read it again. I know you don’t have time. Make time. Preferably in a bubble bath with a favorite drink in hand or wrapped in your coziest blanket next to a warm fire.
- Make art. Color. Dance. Grow things. Get your hands dirty. Play music. With no agenda, just because it feels good. Hug someone you love. Let yourself be hugged. Pet an animal.
- Read "This is How ." No matter whether you are a fan or foe of Augusten Burroughs, he has some good advice. Sometimes when my face hurts from smiling so much I have to repeat to myself: “You are not a bottle of Valium!” Here’s the full quote: “Maybe you feel pressure to be positive because so many people rely on your good, fake-positive energy? If that's the case, screw everybody else. You're not a bottle of Valium.”
- Move your body. A lot. I am a much less cranky person when I walk on my lunch break, go to the gym and lift weights like a champ, run as hard as I can, snowshoe with my friend, play outdoors with my kids, and use the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Even those of us with mobility issues can find ways to be active. Pools and yoga are great for low-impact activities. Start somewhere.
- Eat food that makes you feel good. Not too much of it. Eat it mindfully. Alone or with friends. You will be surprised by what (and how much) you put in your mouth when you really start paying attention to how it makes you feel. I don’t eat fast food anymore. Not because I won’t “let myself” but because I just don’t want to.
- Don’t be rigid. Rigidity is the enemy of fun. And I guarantee if you are reading this, you need more fun.
- Reconnect with your spiritual or religious practice, whatever that may be. Not feeling connected to something divine? Try going outdoors and being in the elements and clearing your head. It can really help you feel grounded and connected.
- Sleep. The dishes can wait. Everything looks better after eight straight hours of shut-eye.
- Do something that scares you, in a good way. Just for you, not to show off or post it on social media. Years ago I did a fire-walk. Yes, over hot coals. It was amazing and totally took me out of the silly little stresses and problems in my head. The threat of singeing your feet off can really do that for a person.
- Laugh. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Or anyone else. Picture everyone who annoys you wearing a clown nose à la Bernie Glassman . Or to borrow from Elizabeth Lesser , remember we are all just “bozos on the bus.”
You are doing good work. Librarians are special people, we care deeply about our patrons and our communities, and we need to learn to care deeply for ourselves. By keeping our own heart fires burning we will stop ourselves from burning out. That allows us to pass our sparks along and ignite the hearts and imaginations of the people who walk through our doors and work next to us on this honorable journey of giving. Peace, my friends.