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Tips for a Stress-Less Workplace

Author: Sue Pivetta

Date: 2014-04-07
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There are many habits and practices you can do on a regular basis to keep you very healthy and happy. Abraham Lincoln said that people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be. Here some ideas on having a happier career and a more peaceful life — some you know and do — the rest you know and don’t do so it’s sure worth a try when you can’t figure out what else you can do to ‘be happier.’  Some of these tips are specific to the workplace, some are general lifestyle suggestions that I’ve found to be valuable in achieving an overall sense of stress-less wellbeing.


It’s a matter of choice

Great leaders are able to find out what is needed and have the power to get stuff done. Quite simply self leadership is looking at what you want, what you need to do to get what you want, and doing what it takes to do that! Often doing what needs to be done takes courage; other times it’s simply attention to what is important to you. We are each unique and have the ability to decide what we will do in any given moment. You can smile at yourself in the mirror to cheer your nasty self up — or you can remain nasty because you want to. It’s up to you. Set goals — choose to go after them!


Lighten Up!

Probably the best part of working in the Communications Center is the humor - quite possibly the best stress-less reducer that anyone can use - at any time. psychologist Lisa Rosenberg tells us that “Humor is not just about laughing at a joke. It is a perspective about life. It’s an emotional release, and it allows you to continue to function in stressful situations.” We all know that by listening to our own black humor — which quite frankly would offend many but offers a stress release that cannot be equaled.  How much do we value humor in the profession?  Humor can be spontaneous. Some people are just funny because they have timing and can laugh at their own human-ness! Humor can put things in perspective!



Mother Theresa had a one word quote: “Smile.” How often do you meet a worker who isn't smiling? When it happens, you just wonder if she likes her job. Smiling is one thing you can do to lighten any situation, put people at ease and just feel good about yourself. Besides, you are much more attractive when you smile. Have you ever tried smiling at your own reflection in the mirror — it’s hilarious. Try this when you are feeling grouchy. Look into the mirror and just give yourself a huge grin — a natural smile will follow because you look so ridiculous you have to smile at yourself. Then you can tell yourself not to take things so seriously and remind yourself to SMILE at the next person you see — without cause. Smile with your eyes and heart too - it works.


Outrageous Behavior

When I taught college, I gave an assignment to do one thing outrageous over the weekend and return to report what they did. Anyone who did not report something outrageous would be ‘booed’ on Monday. It worked – one student cut her long hair despite worries that boyfriend would complaint about it.  A couple of students arranged for a special weekend away from home with their spouses. One student finally got the tattoo she’d been wanting; another called an old high school friend for the first time in years; while one took his grandmother to the carnival.

Although you probably won’t want to engage in outrageous activity on the job — the concept is the same. There are many things you can do at the workplace that create a sense of play and fun. Plus people will have something to talk about besides who-did-what-to-who-and-how-unfair-that-was. Here are some ideas that can be considered:

  • Chili cook off
  • Popcorn challenge
  • Halloween dress up day
  • Shift outings
  • Softball or bowling teams
  • Poster contest
  • Clean joke contest
  • Dumb t shirt day
  • Color day - red? blue? black?
  • Hat day
  • Holiday decorations and food
  • Potlucks
  • Blooper tapes 



The latest studies supporting the benefits of pet ownership show that the body’s reaction to psychological stress may actually be reduced in thoe people who have pets. Researchers in the Department of Medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo have shown that pet owners demonstrate less increase in blood pressure in response to mental stress than do non pet owners. I know of some Comm Centers that have fish tanks — fish are named for officers, firefighters, and paramedics. There are actually agencies that have a Comm Center cat. Of course this may not be possible for all agencies. But it is important to note that going home to a loving pet or caring for fish or a bird (to one dispatcher it’s snakes) is a known stress reducer. In the University of New York study, pet owners showed a less drastic increase in measures such as heart rate and blood pressure following mental stress than did the control group. These findings, the Journal of Hypertension, show that the social benefits of pet ownership can lower blood pressure in response to mental stress. And if you can’t own a pet, you can find someone’s pet to de-stress you for sure.


Give To Get

Volunteering is the best way to relieve stress. Giving to others in some way is healing, promotes high self-esteem, takes you away from your own self, and gives back to the community. As a 9-1-1 professional you can gain access to many volunteer opportunities that are not open to others. Volunteering has a wonderful added benefit — and that is you learn stuff and it adds to your resume. The following volunteer opportunities are particularly fit for the skills you have acquired in your profession:

  • Local Trauma Center
  • AIDS Foundation
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Food Bank
  • Local Homeless Shelters
  • Domestic Violence Network
  • Hotline for rape, crisis or domestic violence
  • Dispute Resolution Center
  • Youth at Risk


Being In The Moment

No matter how much stress reduction or management you know or do — there will still be times when you embarrass yourself, mess up something, make a bad choice, feel insecure, disappoint yourself, disappoint another, and so on. What helps is a simple saying that goes like this, “This too shall pass!” What this means is that the past is simply unreachable but it’s important to acknowledge the current reality that you feel bad. It’s ok to feel bad, in fact feel terrible, awful… go ahead and feel away — and then you can talk to someone about the feelings and let them go. But even if you do nothing — just by the nature of being human you should know that all human emotions are temporary. You can release bad feelings easier and faster by allowing them. If you find yourself fretting about the past, here is a saying you might want to paste on your locker: “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; but get rid of them and forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, and you should never encumber its potentialities and invitations with the dread of the past. You should not waste a moment of today on the rottenness of yesterday.” — Emerson

If you find yourself stressing about tomorrow, the key is to remember that: “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.” Lat., “Seize the day, put no trust in tomorrow.” (I have this programmed into my cell phone display)



A self-portrait and self-inventory, a journal can be a springboard to put the present into perspective or a way to decide and take action. “Journaling has taught me that it is in the moments of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately. I learned to choose the heightened moments because they are the moments of revelation.” —Anais Nin

Journaling provides clarity, discovery, and authentic expression. “The difficulties we encounter in our life are like logs; our inner life is like a flame. What we need is a safe way to burn the logs,” revealed Ira Progoff, called the “Father of Journal Therapy.” Famous diarist Virginia Woolf once explained, “The past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”

Write without worrying about punctuations. Be ready for the unexpectedly profound result or fresh perspective. “I never know what I think about something,” said writer William Faulkner, “until I read what I’ve written on it.”

A journal is a safe place, a haven. Go barefoot, this is for you: a private place for growth, gratitude, and discovery. Remember overheard dialogue. Record a dream or memory. “A journal gives you total control,” explained counselor Ann Pardo. “Writing entries is also validating because you can see something tangible right there in front of you.” Just grab a lined or unlined notebook. Experiment with different colored pens or pencils. Have fun, play, and relax. “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves,” said writer Rainier Maria Rilke. “Like locked rooms and like books that were written in a very foreign tongue... and the point is to live everything. LIVE the questions and perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”


Invest In Yourself

As a college educator I know the pure joy an adult feels when they learn something. Especially if that learning helps them reach a goal or become better in some way. If you are feeling flat, unaffected, bored or stuck - learn something; it doesn’t cost a thing. The world-wide web is a great source of knowledge — pick anything. The other day I wanted to know more about growing garlic — I had more information than I could read in one sitting. What is your interest? What makes you uniquely you? What is your passion — there is always more to learn! And conversely teach to grow. Nothing is quite as challenging to your level of knowledge than to teach someone something you know. Over the years I 'volunteered' - to learn. I have worked at rape relief center, a homeless shelter, the Public Defender’s Office, a trauma center, a dispute resolution center — and my own knowledge has increased, but more than that I am a more interesting person to myself and hopefully others.

Invest in the most important person in the world: yourself. The rewards will be countless. “Have a variety of interests ... These interests relax the mind and lessen tension on the nervous system. People with many interests live, not only longest, but happiest.” — George Mathew Allen


We know you have your own particular coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and we would bet you could teach your own stress class. Why don’t you? Share your wisdom with new hires - offer them all the great and wonderful methods and advice from what you have experienced and learned. Thank you for being there 24/7.


Sue Pivetta is president of Professional Pride, Inc.  She has worked in emergency communications since 1989 as a college instructor, consultant, workshop leader and author.   She teaches adult learning through her book and workshop The Exceptional Trainer.  Contact Sue through her or email receive monthly special offers or to join the Professional Pride e-mail group.

This article was extracted and abridged from Sue’s book 9-1-1 Wellness, which is available here .



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