Saturday, March 31, 2012

Introvert Saturday: Grabbing the Oxygen Mask

About the author: Linda Stoll is a board certified pastoral counselor, a certified life coach, and much-in-love wife/mom/grandma. She's an avid blogger, a collector of sea glass, an online used book seller, and a devoted viewer of Food Network's Chopped. She and her husband dream together of someday finding a little cottage by the sea.

If you’re in a people-helping profession, you know it can be rewarding, yet draining work. And if you’re an introverted people-helper, you know you have no choice but to take care of yourself if you want to stay in it for the long haul. If you’ve experienced burnout in the past, you also know that there’s no way you ever want to head in that direction again.

I’ve been a pastoral counselor and life coach for a decade. I love interacting at the deepest soul level as I talk one-on-one with women. And I find great satisfaction in guiding couples as they learn to speak truth in ways that are respectful and loving. I work hard to provide an environment that is safe and filled with hope. I love what I do.

I also work with a non-profit that ministers to families where there’s a parent with a life-threatening illness. I join other staff and volunteers to serve these families on periodic retreats, facilitating support groups for the parents. Each daily, two hour session is packed with authentic conversation that’s soul searing and fascinating, exhausting and challenging, heartbreaking and rewarding. Together, we sort through pain, hope, fear, joy, anger, doubt, and what it looks like to leave a legacy of lasting value. I so deeply admire the courage and resilience displayed as these moms and dads fight for their lives and for meaningful time with their spouses and children.

But my work is exhausting, and I have to be intentional about self-care. A five step routine of rejuvenating solitude has naturally evolved over time for me, becoming a re-energizing lifeline after any kind of intense interaction.

You know how those oxygen masks drop down over the seats in a plane during times of turbulence? If you want to be of any future use to anyone {including yourself}, you have no choice but to quickly grab the mask … before you take one more step in helping others!

1. Put the mask on and refresh. Head outside and find a place to embrace solitude like an old friend. Find a comfortable seat and put your feet up. Or take a walk. Shed tears if needed. And debrief with the Lover of your soul.

2. Breathe deeply and refuel. Find something fairly healthy to eat. Drink some cool water. {And never say ‘no’ to chocolate!}

3. Rest fully and re-calibrate. Do something mindless. Read the paper. Wander around online. Pick up some light reading. Pull out your Bible. Debrief in your journal. Or simply take a nap.

4. Shift gears and re-focus. Pick up the phone and check in with loved ones who feed your soul, make you laugh, and give you the bigger picture. {Chatting with little people can help immensely. There’s nothing like a conversation with a toddler to give you a fresh perspective!}

5. Remove mask and re-engage. Ready to roll again, you’re equipped to emerge from the quiet place back into focused, joy-filled interaction with others.

Sadly, compassion fatigue is alive and well, especially for those of us in ministry. It has the propensity to hit us introverts especially hard. Meeting people in their most desperate hours is what I’ve been created to do. It’s my sweet spot, and I’m committed to do it well.