This kind of advice can be dangerous stuff:
- Be professional – shrug it off!
- Don't let them see you sweat.
- Keep your game face on.
- Treat every day as a new day.
For example, Anastasia, a teacher, told me, “I want what I do to make a difference every day! (But I'm afraid that I am not making any difference at all!)”
Her solution? “Suck it up, put on that game face, and treat every day as a new day.”
Here's why I believe, for all of us, that approach adds emotional overload to your daily stress burden. Simply said: “treat every day as a new day” sidesteps the emotional meaning in the difficult parts of your day.
What do I mean by sidestep? I mean squashing or stuffing down or ignoring our own distress. I mean, we pretend, as hard as we can, that those feelings don't exist, or don't matter… because we're too gosh-darned professional to allow such feelings to impact our performance.
Anastasia (not her real name) is super-frustrated with dealing with rude, out-of-control adolescents, when she would much rather be teaching math or history or social studies. As a result, Anastasia has been coming home feeling aggravated and disappointed and sad.
And then she squares her shoulders and comes back to work smiling and positive the next day, because it feel like that's her only professional option. “But,” she said, “it's getting harder and harder for me to ‘get my Zen on' and treat every day as a new day.”
For teachers, for doctors and nurses, for anyone: over time, repeatedly swallowing or ignoring our emotional distress results in physical and emotional exhaustion, and burnout. And those, in turn, degrade our ability to fully serve those whom we serve.
Now, let me be clear. What I'm NOT suggesting is that you let yourself lose it in the classroom, the patient room, or the office.
What I AM saying is that you need to find a safe, appropriate time and space to fully allow yourself to feel your feelings after a crummy day at work, to fully be sad or mad. It's critical to do so, and here's two reasons why:
- Squashing away these feelings uses up your emotional energy every day, as long as you are squashing them, even though you may not be consciously aware of that energy drain. You need that energy back! Your body and your emotional self need to “work through” this stress, so that you can let it go (and it can let go of you.) When you work through the feelings, then you can get that energy back.
- Important hidden information lies inside your sad or mad feelings. Intense emotions billow up when our personal assumptions or values or boundaries have been threatened or violated. As long as we vigorously pretend not to feel those emotions, we may well not even know we carry these values or boundaries. Because, if we knew we had them, we'd feel even madder, or sadder, than we already do. When we allow ourselves to really feel the feelings in a safe time and place, then we can unpack what is driving those feelings. Once the assumptions, values or boundaries become conscious, then we have behavioral options that weren't available to us before.
Let's take this information back to Anastasia's real-world experience.
Anastasia found that when she allowed these feelings to surface in conversation with a safe adult, she learned several important things about herself as a teacher:
- Anastasia loves her students. “I loved them before I even met them! That's what being a teacher means!” Unconsciously, though, she was also expecting them to realize that, and to love her back.
- Anastasia realized that on some level she experiences disrespectful, out-of-control behavior as unloving.
- It is painful to offer love that is not returned. Anastasia found that letting herself feel that pain allowed the pressure of it to lessen. As the pain receded, and she talked it through,
- Anastasia was then able to unpack three related ideas for herself: love, trust and respect. She decided that she will continue to love her students unconditionally. However, they will have to earn her trust and respect.
- Anastasia then decided that modeling “sunshine and light” is not her only option in the classroom. In her words, she can add some “salt and vinegar” into her responses to out-of-control behavior. This will more accurately and honestly let her students know when their behavior is not acceptable – and still maintain Anastasia's professionalism.
- As an experienced teacher, Anastasia is well aware that the kids she teaches have a lot of stress in their own lives. These stresses drive some of their out-of-bounds behavior, and she has always felt great compassion and understanding for her students. But now, Anastasia can also allow herself to have a bit more compassion and understanding for her own sources of stress.
All in all, Anastasia finished this exploration feeling able to return to her classroom feeling her own behavior will be more in alignment with both her professional goals and her own inner expectations. And that kind of alignment means a decrease in her day-to-day stress.
Do you find that “every day is a new day” is resulting in such a high level of emotional effort for “getting your Zen on” that even the Buddha himself might have blanched at it?
Perhaps your “inappropriate, unprofessional” feelings need a safe time and place to be felt, so they can teach you important truths you may be missing about your own assumptions, values and boundaries.
Maybe “every day is a new day” needs to be tempered by the self-respect of first, fully allowing the feeling that “this day sucked.”