Finding Sanity During an Insane Time

Posted on May 18, 2020


Today’s Morning Buzz comes to you from Ann Marie Townshend, the City Manager of Lewes, Delaware.

What I’m Reading: The Carpenter by Jon Gordon

What I’m Doing: Preparing to open our public beaches for Memorial Day Weekend

The other night, as I lie in bed trying to fall asleep, I am feeling a bit short of breath. My brain asks, “should I get tested for COVID?” Then my brain responds to itself, “of course not, silly, it is just another panic attack.” I suspect that this is every municipal manager or other municipal employee who has difficult decisions to make – or worse yet – must implement decisions made by others.

Stop… take a breath…. We can do this.

Several weeks ago, I posted on the ELGL Facebook group that I had been suddenly overcome with a sense of profound sadness from the gravity of our current situation. Did anyone else feel the same? A flurry of responses came from those of you in the same boat. I even received a comforting call from a colleague about 50 miles away who I know only through ELGL social media. This told me I was in good company. As the days and weeks continued, I tried a number of things to shake my sadness, anxiety, frustration, and every other emotion that was hitting me.

I feel the need to be useful in a crisis. I also think we can learn from each other in crises, so I decided early on to work with the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration and the City Management Association of Delaware to develop a Lunch & Learn webinar series to help Delaware municipal staff to navigate the new challenges. In April, he University staff planned for Jen Daniels, a PhD student and LCSW, to talk to us about well-being. By the time of the webinar on May 8, I had been working from my home office in my bedroom, and spending my spare time scrolling through social media, news feeds, and work e-mail – you know – as relaxation. I realized that this webinar was the answer to my prayers.

As I listened to the webinar, I realized that my routine was not healthy. Since I began working from home, my work and home boundaries have become blurred beyond recognition. On the nights I can’t fall asleep, I see my computer blinking in the corner of my room. And when I am relaxing, I am scrolling through a variety of things that raise my blood pressure, whether it is a series of Facebook posts of friends from yesteryear decrying the government’s control over their lives with stay-at-home orders, or posts from journalists letting me know what is really happening in the world. The only beacons of hope in my social media feed are the posts from local government nerds, but even they aren’t as chipper as usual.

The webinar shared a number of strategies to help attendees tend to their well-being, but there are a number of things I implemented immediately to help me keep my sanity.

  1. The next day, I moved my home office. When we built our house, we included a little computer cove, not intended as an office, but a little nook where we could close the doors to hide the clutter. I decided that this is a healthier home office than my bedroom, where truly I should be focused on relaxation.
  2. I distanced from my phone. To help with this, I acquired my mother’s old Apple Watch. This allows me to get my phone calls and text messages from family and friends without having my phone constantly at my side, distracted by social media, news alerts, and all of those other stressors that keep me from being in the moment. Since I only have one phone, rather than a personal phone and work phone, this has also helped me distance from work during my off time. I also became more disciplined about TV time. If I am watching TV, it is something engaging to take my mind off of the world, not to emphasize all of these things beyond my control. If nothing is on, Disney+ always has something to take you to a better place.
  3. Keep moving! One benefit of my repurposed Apple Watch, is that it reminds me to move and to breathe. It is amazing what we can forget when we are caught up in what in the stresses of municipal life! Yes, breathing is important, and so is untethering from your desk. As the weather improves, my daily walks with my husband or the dogs are a more important than ever.
  4. I changed my wake-up and bedtime routine. I am not a morning person, so it takes me awhile to wake up. Each morning, my husband brings me coffee (I know I am spoiled), and I sip my coffee while listening to NPR and scrolling through my phone so see what I missed while I was sleeping. This would drag me into the social media cesspool. Now my phone charger to the other side of the room, and Jon Gordon’s Stay Positive is on my bedside table. This is a compilation of positive, uplifting messages to start my day. At night, instead of scrolling through my phone before bed, I pray. I thank God for my blessings and ask for him to bless those I know are suffering. Prayer may not be for everyone, but positive thoughts transcend religious beliefs.
  5. I stop working. This may be the toughest part of my new routine. I don’t punch the clock, but I decide that after a certain time (maybe 7:00 one night and 9:00 another), I am just simply done worrying about those things that can wait until tomorrow. This past Saturday, after a series of morning meetings, I sent an update to City Council and let them know that I would not be checking my e-mail for the remainder of day. Untethering from my phone helps, but it is always a challenge to redirect my mind when it wants to go to work. I find journaling can clear my mind.

Make no mistake, I am a work in progress. This COVID thing can still get me down, but through disconnecting with some things and reconnecting with others, I can manage my stress. And when it gets bad, I know I can just something that my local government friends will get. We are here to support each other. We will get through this together, regardless of our physical distance.

This life-changing webinar (I hope I haven’t oversold it) is available on the Delaware Complete Communities YouTube channel. It really breaks down everything I am feeling into digestible components and provides strategies for coping. And please remember, at the very worst of times, we are providing the services that allow people to have some sense of normalcy. We are making a big difference.

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