We use electricity daily without thinking. We always take it for granted…until a storm comes and knocks out the power. Then we groan and moan because we realize how much we depend upon electricity to illuminate and simplify our lives.
The simple truth is especially evident with the introduction of cell phones, lap tops and tablets. I use my cell phone for everthing!!! If I am not careful, however, I can overuse it causing the battery to deplete. Once the low battery warning is activated, I must take immediate action to locate an outlet so that the device will recharge. Failure to take such action means my device fully drains and becomes useless to me until it has absorbed some amount of electrical recharge. What I sometimes forget is that not all outlets are good (or hot) as my IT guys say. If I plug my charger into a bad outlet, not only do I not get the recharge I need, but also, the battery will continue draining until it is too far gone to be used at all.
We are like batteries.
Carola was a top achiever in our office. She took the hardest cases, assessed them thoroughly and closed them safely. Not only was she a great worker, she always mentored the new staff. One day, on a seemingly normal day while receiving feedback from her supervisor, she lost it. I heard a loud commotion and went to investigate. Carola was screaming in the hall at her supervisor: calling her an idiot, incompetent and ungrateful. I stepped in and called them to my office. In unpacking what had occurred, I started with the word ungrateful as it appeared to be the catalyst. Carola began crying and relayed to us that she did so much for the agency and no one appreciated all that she did. As she talked, she also revealed a good deal of personal issues she was dealing with outside of work that no one knew. She admitted that her supervisor was usually supportive and always gave her praise and recognition for her hard and exemplary work. In the end, she declared she didn’t know why she blew up. As I watched her, I recognized that Carola had a dead battery.
As an manager, I could not ignore the outburst. It had to be addressed. We discussed the inappropriateness of her actions and how it could not happen again. But, then we discussed ways she could recharge with our support and avoid further drain.
Social workers often give of themselves to the families with whom they are working. I am sorry to say that the exchange is neither equal nor fair. While social workers give hope to the family in return all too often they take on some of the clients’ trauma. The worker’s days and nights consist of shouldering the burden of vulnerable children and adults in a fast-paced, chaotic agency (chaotic because of the potential unstable nature of dealing with people in crisis). And, when facing the daily strain on their physical, emotional and compassion energy, a recharging must occur.
Those who do not recharge may end up with a dead battery, desiccated by the drain with nothing left to give. At the least provocation , like Carola, they implode or just shut down all empathetic functions and become robotic in “power saving mode”.
Some wait until the warning light is blinking red. They can feel the drain on them increasing at an exponential rate but they put off plugging in. Then they frantically search for an outlet with which to connect so that they can feel the relief of recharge. Unfortunately when you wait too long to plug in, it takes longer for the battery to get enough juice to recharge.
And then there are the outlet choices.
Some workers think they are recharging but don’t notice any improvement. What they dont know is that they have unwittingly chosen a bad outlet. So, instead of building energy up, and replenishing the charge, they continued to drain until their battery was empty.
What are bad outlets?
There are many, but one clue on whether or not your outlet is viable for charging is that a bad outlet takes more than it gives. Some examples are: Chronic Drinking, Over-Eating, Stress-Shopping (yes thats a thing), and Gambling are a few. In and of themselves, in moderation, these are fine. However when used as a method to cope with and counteract daily stress, these turn into bad outlets. For example, A glass of wine with dinner or a drink after work with a friend can be a good way to talk, laugh and unwind. But when you are drinking every night just to cope with your day, the outlet won’t work.
I am not just writing to you but also to myself. For years I have struggled with eating my stress. After a soul murdering kind of a day, I would drown my feelings in cupcakes, cookies, etc. The gratification was instant : that feeling of wellbeing (almost euphoric) would flood my body. The hole in my belly, filled with sugary goodness, seemed to close as I ate the sweets. But I learned the price of this outlet was my health and my energy. My battery was almost depleted before I realized the problem. Yes, the outlet was bad. It was a false promise of calmness and happiness. It was a lie and a dead jack. Soon after I consumed the sweets, I would feel sick, ashamed and self blaming, for my lack of control when it came to stress eating. And that shame and self blame only compounded the stress.
I had to realize that I was on a destructive path. And I made some changes. Now I have to consciously make the decision daily to avoid that outlet for stress release and for replenishing my charge.. I had to find some good outlets.
If the above are examples of bad outlets, what are good ones?
Good outlets are those activities that allow energy to flow back into you and recharge you with a full supply of renewed energy and commitment. But there is no “Good outlet resource page”. Mainly because good outlets are different for each person. Some people run. Some people paint, some work in their yards. Here are a few of my good outlets that have kept me going 30 years working in a very high stress atmosphere.
Laughter: Yes, simplistic but the very best outlet for me. I love to laugh! I surround myself with funny people who can pull the humor out of mundane or serious conversations. The more I laugh, the more energy I feel returning.
Supporting Others: I receive a lot of support from my friends and family. They are an obvious good outlet. But I find when they need me, and I lend support to them, I am also recharged.
Repurposing Furniture: I love to find tragic treasures from yard sales, flea markets etc and turn those broken rejects into beautiful (in my eyes) pieces. Both the labor involved and the tangible outcome are sources of renewed energy for me.
Serving Others: Whether it is serving pie to the homeless, delivering presents to foster children, working in a disaster shelter or just sitting at the bedside of a hospice patient, there are so many opportunities for all of us to serve others. I will admit sometimes when faced with these opportunities to serve, my stressed mind tells me I am too busy to give of my time. But when I do it anyway, EVERY SINGLE TIME I have returned fully charged and (bonus) at peace.
Writing: Ok This might seem like a given. But truth be told, when I write a blog of encouragement to others, it is often to myself as well. As I pull inspiration from things I have seen and experienced as a Child Welfare Social Worker and write about them, I find many others have faced the same issues. If someone tells me the blog helped them , I feel a rush of recharge in my battery and a sense of purpose.
To recap: when we give of ourselves, we all need to recharge before we are drained beyond our usefulness. When doing so, we need to find a good outlet that will allow us to continue without faltering. And we need to examine our lives to see if we are plugged into a bad outlet and unplug.
Challenge: Find your own good outlet with life sustaining energy to recharge you before your battery is dead.