Public librarianship is a profession that attracts many caring, empathetic people who want to save the world. The same vocational awe that leads us to a career of tirelessly connecting people with free and equal access to information, resources, and each other, can lead to inevitable burnout under normal circumstances. In times of crisis, when environmental stressors abound, we must be especially careful not to forget that in order to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for society as a whole, and public libraries across the United States have had a range of responses depending on the needs of their communities and staff. ALA’s Executive Board has recommended that libraries close in the interest of slowing the spread of the virus, and communities across the nation are in various states of lockdown to encourage social distancing. Whether you’re on leave, working remotely, feeling sick or healthier than ever, here are some tips for combating stress during a time when it’s hard to avoid.
Listen to the Experts
As information professionals, we’re skilled at seeking out the most useful data in any given situation, so listen to your librarian instincts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great place to start. The CDC provides these tips for managing anxiety and stress as a result of the pandemic. One of the tips that should come naturally to you? Sharing the facts to combat misinformation and undue panic. The World Health Organization also has resources for the public, including tips for coping with stress during the outbreak for adults and children. The American Psychiatric Association provides these mental health tips for coping with disaster.
Remember That You’re Not Alone
The paradox of a pandemic is that while we are all in this together, we must all maintain a safe distance from one another, in order to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. Since libraries are community gathering spaces, the effects on our profession have been dramatic, and we’ve seen programs cancelled, locations closed, and in-person services made available remotely or digitally. It can be easy, while experiencing social isolation, to forget that we are all going through the same thing, and to experience loneliness. Loneliness is normal, but in excess has been shown to have adverse effects on both mental and physical health. Here are some tips from the Washington Post for preventing loneliness while practicing social distancing.
Make the Most of Technology
It’s important to stay informed, but compulsively refreshing the news app on your smartphone could very well be adding to your stress. Here are some free apps that may help you reduce your stress (and keep your finger off the refresh button).
Calm: The most popular app for sleep, meditation, and relaxation, Calm includes everything from guided meditations to mindfulness classes to stretching exercises to help you keep calm.
Smiling Mind: Created by an Australian nonprofit whose mission is “to help every mind thrive,” Smiling Mind is a daily mindfulness and meditation guide for children and adults.
Breathe2Relax and Tactical Breather: Developed by the Defense Health Agency, these apps are designed to help you regulate your breathing and include breathing exercises to help you manage your physiological response to stressful situations.
Mindfulness Coach: Created by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, this app provides a gradual, self-guided training program designed to help you understand and adopt a simple mindfulness practice.
Be a Library User!
If you’re stuck at home and working to conserve resources, there is no better place to find free options — many of which are available digitally — than your public library. From fitness magazines on Flipster to classic folk albums on Hoopla, from your favorite comedian narrating their own memoir on Overdrive to the daily news, public libraries provide an endless array of options for you, whether your goal is to entertain, distract, center, or improve yourself.
Keep Doing What You’re Doing
One of the best ways to maintain calm during times of crisis is to stick to your normal routines. Maintaining an atmosphere of “business as usual” during a crisis is shown to be beneficial for children, who thrive in structured environments, but the same principle can be applied to adults. To whatever extent possible, maintain your regular routines, including everything from getting regular exercise, practicing good sleep hygiene, and doing chores around the house.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely maintaining at least one work routine by keeping up on professional publications. Many youth services librarians are providing comfort and a sense of normalcy to patrons by conducting virtual storytimes. Literacy and education are no less important during times of crisis, so if it helps you cope, keep doing what you do best: providing reading recommendations, connecting friends and family with the information they need, dispelling misinformation, and sharing the joy of literature.
In the end, this crisis will pass like all things must. Developing good habits for managing stress now can help us when we return to work and apply these habits there. This list from the March/April edition of American Libraries Magazine includes titles like Recipes for Mindfulness in Your Library and Renew Yourself: A Six-Step Plan for More Meaningful Work, so that once you’ve found your balance, you’ll be ready to put it to work.
Stay well, library friends.