A Librarian’s Guide to a Panic-free Pandemic

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By: Tommy Vinh Bui, Teen & Adult Services Librarian, Los Angeles County Library

Any number of things can be the source of surplus stress these days for a librarian. From the sight of aisles completely abandoned of patrons to the unrelenting uncertainty and feelings of displacement stirred by constant teleworking, these are turbulent and disorienting times we’re enduring, and day by day the challenges seem to compound. Our very identity as librarians are ostensibly being existentially dismantled before our eyes.

But if librarians are adept at anything, its adaptation and mustering renewable resilience from some bottomless well of true grit that resides in our cockles somewhere. And while we toil and strive to continue to serve our respective COVID-besieged communities, we have to remind ourselves to not stomp on that gas pedal too intensely. For that road inevitably leads to burnout and internal ruination.

Stress relief can seem inconsequential in the context of the larger pressing circumstances beleaguering the globe at the moment, but a little goes a long way, and looking after your own mental health with critical moments of self-care can be a game-changer. Self-care can also keep you from being reduced to a smoldering ash pile of overwork and professional regret. With a little self-awareness, you can navigate the gauntlet of anxiety and stress that seems to accumulate precariously high daily.

When I find that my blood pressure is reaching an apex and inching toward apoplexy throughout the day, I rouse myself up and walk away from my desk to seek immediate respite. Stretch those legs and get that circulation going. Physical activity will release just the right combination of brain endorphins and missile-guided serotonin to keep the vexation at bay. Something as simple as leg stretches or lunges will suffice. Or, heck, go all out and perform break room yoga. To, I’m sure, the exasperation of your colleagues just trying to enjoy their snacks in peace.

Another important technique to regulate the ol’ all-consuming depression that tends to orbit the noggin during pandemics is not bringing your work home with you. Leave that librarianship load in your cubicle or writhing in the parking lot. The moment you cross that threshold of your home, your shoulders should be completely unslumped and unburdened by the slings and arrows of the day. Should your home actually double as your newfound workspace, well, there are still ways to demarcate and draw boundaries between work and private quadrants of your home. Dedicate a work-free nook somewhere. A nook wherein any mention of library-related vernacular is punishable by drawing-and-quartering. Or whatever makeshift equivalent convenient.

And once you’ve established your little fortification of tranquility, you can start inciting some wholesome and wholesale relaxation with other calm-conducive activities such as gardening. Nothing relieves mounting angst like sprinkling a length of compost over your well-kempt garden. Or standing around vacantly watering your turnips. A green thumb is most unsuited for curling into a fist and angrily embedding in some drywall.

Meditation. The go-to mantra-mandated method for mending a frazzled mind. Meditation takes only moments and can mean the difference between powering through another hour of work or lobbing another xerox machine through the closest window. This practice impels you to focus on the here-and-now instead of the frightful maybes and assorted uncertainties of tomorrow. Meditation can be conveniently done at your desk. It can be done sitting in a bathroom stall. It’s even suited for the break room at the detriment of the comfort levels of coworkers, again, trying to just enjoy their mini-pretzels or whatever.

If there’s any recognizable trend to glean about strategies for managing stress relief, it’s that it’s important to be able to self-regulate your emotions and recognize the warning signs of being stretched too thin. Adhering to a steady foundation of basic self-care such as hydrating, getting a good night’s rest, and eating well, etc. will make a world of difference and influence your demeanor and wellbeing positively.

Optimism abounds when you remember to kick off your shoes from time to time and put your feet up and your hair down and lean back, testing the very limits of your chair’s tensile strength. You hear some flimsy piece of plastic underneath start to go brittle and crack but you can always check if your chair’s warranty has already lapsed at another time. That’s just a task to tack on the to-do pile for tomorrow-you.

For today-you is too busy daydreaming about those sweet, sweet turnips.