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When feelings come to work

stressed man sitting at desk

Written by Jennifer Pauletto

Often as I commute into work through The Gorge, I lose myself in the rolling and jagged hills, the reflection of sunrise on the Columbia River, and the general oasis that we’re lucky enough to live in. My commute also provides an opportune time to bring my awareness inward to my emotional state and work to regulate my emotions – when my needs are met and also when they are not – before jumping into another work day. I’m able to really take time and space to identify how I’m feeling that day before sharing at our agency’s daily community meeting.

In the last few weeks since the Indian Creek and Eagle Creek fires have merged and spawned another fire on the Washington side, my commutes have been more of a time to mourn and process the loss of some of that oasis. All members of The Gorge community have been effected by the awful destruction that we watch evolve every day. Emotions connected to this event don’t just disappear when we arrive to work.

Community Meeting gives everyone a voice and offers a safe and nonthreatening environment within which people can begin finding words for feelings on a regular basis.  The practice conveys to the community that emotional intelligence is important. It can provide valuable information about where a co-worker might be in that moment. Feelings are important, can be contagious, and we all need to practice becoming more comfortable with naming them. Once we are able to name our emotions, we can work to regulate them, build empathy in a team, support co-workers through what they are feeling, and offer opportunities for connection and bonding. Especially for organizations in the helping professions, staff are dealing with client’s emotions which can be incredibly draining when staff feel their own needs are not being met.

As my co-workers and I engaged on our feelings, goals, and supports needed for the day, it quickly became obvious on that Monday morning that emotions around disasters in our community and injustices on a national level were effecting everyone around the table. Feelings from dejected to sad and anger to rage were being described. Our team used this as an opportunity for relationship management. We made time to further unpack our feelings and used the staff meeting to talk further about collective disturbance.

During environmental disasters, whether human caused or not, we don’t always see what we can do, the impact we can have or difference we can make, as one person or as a small group. Focus on the places where we do have power, on action steps we can take to make things better in the community.  Be a catalyst for positive change in unfortunate situations.

As Mr. Rogers states, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” We can be those helpers.