4 Tips for Taking the Bumps in Stride

By Jonathan Ruth

Someone pulls out in front of you on your way to work, despite the fact there’s not a car behind you for a quarter mile.

You’re in a hurry to pick up those last-minute items for the party, and the person in front of you in the express lane is 12 items over the limit. You know because you counted!

You have 30 minutes to get the weed-eating done, and 10 minutes in, you run out of spooled line.

You get the picture. We face so many frustrations in our fast-paced lives. Sometimes, before we know it, the tiniest thing turns into the proverbial straw, the camel’s back breaks and your pent-up frustration results in a nuclear meltdown on some unsuspecting soul who gets caught in the fallout!

It’s a fact that we’ll face major struggles in life, and the ability to walk through those situations successfully is a topic for another time. But what about the pesky little problems that we encounter numerous times every day? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could improve our ability to handle these situations?

Focusing on what you can change rather than on what you can’t change is a sign of strong mental health.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some tips for taking the bumps in stride.

Slow down! Most of us are too busy and too impatient! These appendages we call cell phones have changed us. We expect instant news, instant text replies, instant streaming videos, etc. No wonder standing in the checkout line five more minutes seems unbearable. All this instant gratification creates unreasonable expectations in our minds. It’s a problem. If you don’t believe me, search for “cell phone disorders” sometime. Here are some ideas for slowing down your life:

  • Block 30 minutes to take a walk. Don’t run…don’t power-walk…just walk.
  • Take 10 minutes and intentionally sit still. Clear your mind. Focus on your breathing rhythm. Aim for deep, relaxed breaths.
  • Meditate on an image, a phrase or a passage of Scripture.
  • Finally—if you’re feeling really brave—turn your phone off for a few hours!

Choose personal power. There is dynamic empowerment in choice. Whoever said it first was right, “Your response is your responsibility.” Regardless of what life throws at you, you get to choose how you respond. That is an incredible gift! When you choose your response, you refuse to play the victim and wrestle back your power. The next time something upsets you, decide to own your response and choose to act positively. It will feel good—I promise—and the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Give yourself time to fume…then let it go. Create a private space and make a bargain with yourself. You can be upset about it for five minutes, but when the clock runs out, it’s over. Be upset, but learn to let it go. If it floats through your mind again, that’s OK. Just choose—there’s that choice thing again—not to dwell on it. As Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Laugh! Grab your spouse, children, family or friends and go do something fun. Text a joke to a friend. Whatever it takes! Getting angry takes energy. So does laughing. Why not choose the one that makes you feel better when it’s over?

I hope you find these ideas helpful and wonder if you have any other tools for dealing with life’s little frustrations. If so, post them in the comments so we can help each other.


Jonathan RuthJonathan Ruth   Contact   Website
UT System Administration

Jonathan is a two-time UT graduate and currently works in the IRIS Administrative Support department. He’s also a life coach and has a passion for helping others. He loves spending time with family and friends and is certain he played on the PGA Tour in another life.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

The Gift of Gardening

By Melissa Powell

Early in my career as a dietitian, it became apparent that I knew a lot about the science of food but not much about where it came from.

I began to feel like an astrophysicist who forgot to take astronomy or a neurosurgeon who never took anatomy. I felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing, so I decided to befriend farmers and take up gardening.

I spent a summer volunteering at Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga. I worked in the fields and listened to the farmers throughout the growing season.

At home, my husband and I prepared a small raised bed and planted a handful of vegetables and herbs. I started reading Joel Salatin, Wendall Berry and the Grumpy Gardener. But come August, I had a wealth of knowledge and no harvest.

In our eagerness to plant, we miscalculated the foliage growth from the canopy of trees that resulted in little to no sunlight over the garden.

The following year, we were in a new city and a rental house, so I purchased two containers and two tomato plants. We ate plump, juicy sliced tomatoes, BLTs and tomato pie through September! The next two springs were spent growing a family, so I took a break from gardening.

Since returning to Chattanooga last summer, I’ve rekindled my friendship with wonderful local farmers, prepared a bed in our front yard—where there are no trees and eight hours of full sun—and enjoyed lettuce, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, peppers and eggplant. We had marigolds in vases throughout the house, and I’ve even learned to make pesto and pickles.

Lettuce

This year, I added okra and mint, bought my 5-year-old son a garden set for Easter and joined a meat buying club to receive our pork, chicken and eggs from a local farmer.

Melissa's son, Craig, learning to garden.
Melissa’s son, Craig, learning to garden.

I’ve extended my farming friendships to a 100-mile radius and already sent a down payment for our Thanksgiving turkey. It’s being raised on a beautiful farm in Mentone, Alabama, by four loving farmers and their dog, Petra.

I have to admit that my squash did die. But an older, wiser farmer from Ohatchee, Alabama, encouraged me to press on and sent me home with some helpful tips and plenty of blueberries and squash from his own crop.

Gardening has been holy ground for me. It’s reminded me of the seasons of life. That growth often happens despite my failings. And that the Earth and her people are gifts to be cherished.

These lessons have made me a better mother and dietitian, and I hope to pass them down to my son and students.


Melissa Powell and FamilyMelissa Powell Contact
UT Chattanooga

Melissa is a registered dietitian and dietetics lecturer in the Health and Human Performance Department at UT Chattanooga.  She and her husband, Chris, are the proud parents of a playful son, Craig. She enjoys time with her church family, taming her lab mutts–Mabel and Moses—wine with neighbors and traveling south for a beach vacation or visit with her nieces. Her favorite subjects are faith, food, farming, family, friends and football. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Samford University and a master’s degree in health education from UT Chattanooga.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Managing Workplace Stress

By John Lacey

Stress in the workplace happens every day to just about everyone. It might result from a project with a tight deadline. It could come from a colleague with an irritating manner. It might travel with you from a sleepless night. Whatever the cause, stress has a big impact in the workplace.

So what is one to do? To answer that question, interviews were conducted with employees in high-stress jobs at each UT campus and institute to find out how they cope with and manage stress and to share their stories as a resource for helping others.

The Emergency Responder

Donnie RossDonnie Ross
Police Lieutenant, UT Knoxville

“While working an event, one of the patrons experienced a heart attack. Changing from a security mindset to a life-saving one, a group of us responded to the unconscious patron.

“Our CPR training took over, and we did everything step-by-step. I remember the stressors I felt—like rapid heart rate, fast breathing and an adrenaline kick.

“We managed to get the patron to a stretcher and applied the defibrillator, which delivered a shock like I’d never seen before. We continued CPR until we got him to an ambulance, but he later died at the hospital.

“I remember the family member thanking us for our effort, even though she was in the middle of this experience. I had this helpless feeling for her and wished I could do more. The situation was difficult for us. We got together and talked about it afterwards, which I think helped some of us deal with the stress of responding to the emergency.”

The Public and Media Liaison

Doug EdlundDoug Edlund
Assistant Director for Operations, Office of Marketing and Communications, UT Institute of Agriculture

“I was in an interim director role, and the institute was gearing up for a big research initiative. We had an open house for the public and media scheduled to visit the research site. Then, suddenly and tragically, our department director and my supervisor passed away.

“I had a staff in shock and an event to handle where I really didn’t know if the public’s reception would be hostile or welcoming. Then, a few days later, we received a massive open records request, which is when someone requests to see public documents, including emails. And I’d never overseen one before.

“I was thrust into situations where I didn’t have a lot of experience, and we were dealing with some misinformation and needed to stay ahead of the noise. I didn’t want to let anyone down.

“I would go home at night mentally exhausted and in some physical pain, like back aches. But when I would go home, I would try to draw that line and say, okay, now I’m home, and I’m not going to worry about it. I tried to leave the stress at the office and just focus on my family when I was home.”

The Political Strategist

Carey WhitworthCarey Whitworth
Associate Director for Advocacy, Office of Government Relations and Advocacy, UT System Administration

“During this past legislative session, our office worked through countless issues largely driven by a student event, Sex Week. After almost three months of working on the issue, it reached a boiling point.

“We knew we needed to call our grassroots network to action to let legislators know how UT’s advocacy base felt, but we weren’t entirely sure it would be enough to turn the tables in our favor.

“In the end, we had an overwhelmingly positive and effective response—and no legislation that impacted UT passed. However, the anticipation of the outcome—and unpredictability of it all—was enormously stressful.

“I make it a point to break down situations into elements that can be tackled piece-by-piece. Overall, it makes almost every project, speech, meeting or whatever the situation may be, more manageable. It’s a trick my father taught me.”


John LaceyJohn Lacey  Contact
UT System Administration

John is a UT graduate and currently works in the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing as a project manager. When he is not enjoying time with his wife and two children, you can find him riding his bike or dreaming up big ideas.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

What to Say (and Do) When You Don’t Have the Right Words

By Erica Jenkins

Advice on handling grief and loss in the workplace from UT Knoxville faculty members Laura Wheat and Laura Miller

Someone Experiencing Loss

Set Communication Expectations
Let your supervisor and co-workers know your preferences about discussing your loss.

Ask for What You Need
Someone who hasn’t experienced your type of loss may not understand the adjustments your loss requires. Talk honestly about your needs.

Give Yourself Space
Grief doesn’t happen in linear stages. It occurs in roller coaster cycles that vary in intensity over time. If you need to step away for a minute to process feelings of grief, give yourself that latitude.

Don’t Avoid Your Grief
When we process grief, we can overindulge in coping mechanisms including food and substances to avoid the intensity of those feelings. While painful, it’s in your best interest long-term to experience and process your grief.

Supervisors

Acknowledge the Loss
Let employees know that you understand they are experiencing a life-changing loss. This can be a powerful way to open the door for additional conversations.

Take Initiative
Ask how you and the office can support them and talk about what accommodations, if needed, are possible within UT policy.

Check In
Grief is a process, and it’s important to check in with employees occasionally to understand where they are and if their needs have changed.

Follow the Leader
Your employees may view work as a safe place to escape from grief. Have a conversation where you ask about their preferences.

Keep Your Door Open
Depending on the type of loss, the grief may take a long time to work through. Make it clear that your door is open for conversations if employees need to discuss situations with you.

Offer Flexibility Within UT Policies
Loss may require employees to work out new routines. If you can, be flexible if employees need to leave early or come in late.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
Don’t wait until employees have accumulated fireable offenses to address performance issues. Monitor behaviors, and if patterns emerge, open conversations so that there are opportunities to discuss issues.

Address Performance Empathetically
Don’t start performance conversations with grieving employees with evaluation statements such as, “I’ve noticed that performance is noticeably suffering.” Start with open-ended questions and give employees opportunities to address issues first.

Co-Workers

Recognize That Loss Comes in All Forms
It’s not unusual for people to associate loss with a death. However, loss can come in many forms, such as divorce, loss of a pet and a child going to college. Each form of loss can result in grief.

Acknowledge the Loss
It’s important to be supportive by recognizing when something significant happens.

Open the Door for Conversations
If you’re comfortable with your co-workers, let them know that you’re a safe place to talk.

Offer Distractions
There will come a time when it may be nice for people in grief to get away from the office. Don’t be afraid to invite them to lunch or give them something else to focus on.

Pay Attention
If you notice changes in your co-workers’ behavior, don’t be shy about asking if there’s anything you can do to help.

This is Part 4 of 4 from our first series of stories about grief and loss. Read parts 1, 2, and 3.


Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music. 

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Don’t Misunderstand: Interpreting Grief Behaviors

By Erica Jenkins

Most employees can function at work when grieving, but there will likely be behavior changes supervisors and co-workers may notice. Paying attention to these behaviors and understanding that they are related to the grief experience is the first step to being supportive during the grief process.

For supervisors responsible for employee performance, monitoring employee behavior during grief is especially important, as it allows the supervisor a way to be accommodating but also provides an empathetic avenue to address performance issues related to grief if the behavior persists.

It must be noted, that in order to correctly evaluate employee behavior, a supervisor must know the employee’s work habits and characteristics prior to the loss.

Dr. Laura Wheat, a clinical assistant professor in UT Knoxville’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences explained the following common grief behaviors employees may exhibit and the reasons behind them.

1. Extreme, Yet In-Character Behavior

When grieving, we turn to our natural coping mechanisms because they make us feel better. Naturally shy and withdrawn co-workers may isolate themselves more. More outgoing co-workers may spend a lot of time joking around at the water cooler or finding reasons to have a meeting because that interaction is comforting and provides a distraction.

2. Reduced Productivity or Preoccupation

Employees in grief may appear preoccupied or have reduced productivity because they are processing the loss and trying to make sense out of it, especially with a death loss.

3. Arriving Late or Leaving Early

Depending on the type of loss, an employee may arrive late or need to leave early. A loss can create a change in the family routine that may take time for the employee to adjust.

4. Calling in Sick

You may observe a co-worker in grief getting sick and taking more sick days. While some may think the employee is faking illness to get out of work because they’re sad, grief takes a lot of energy and actually lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off infection

This is Part 3 of 4 from our first series of stories about grief and loss. Read parts 1, 2, and 4.


Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music. 

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Doctors’ Orders: It’s OK to Be Sad

By Erica Jenkins

“Loss can be any experience that demands the surrender of something that is personally significant or familiar,” explained Laura Wheat, a clinical assistant professor in UT Knoxville’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. And grief is how we express and acknowledge our loss.

The personal nature of grief also makes it a difficult topic for many to address in the workplace, said Laura Miller, a health communication researcher in UT Knoxville’s School of Communication Studies.

“There’s something about the workplace setting that seems to confuse people about how to deal with grief,” Miller said. “It confuses grievers too, because they’re not sure if they are allowed to have their human experience out in public in the workplace.”

This is Part 2 of 4 from our first series of stories about grief and loss. Read parts 1, 3, and 4.


Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music. 

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Find the Silver Lining in Loss

By Erica Jenkins

Justin Crowe had just arrived in Washington, D.C. for a conference in 2010 when his parents called, and the news wasn’t good.

“They told me that my brother, my only brother, had passed away,” recalled Crowe, a UT Extension specialist with Tennessee 4-H.

It was a shock – Justin’s brother was only 36.

Standing at a Metro bus stop in D.C. that night, Justin called his supervisor, Steve Sutton. “I just broke down,” Justin said. “It didn’t really hit me until I talked to somebody. I told him that I didn’t know what was going to happen, but that I was going to do the best I could.”

Steve Sutton was only a year into his first supervisory role and hadn’t been in a situation like that before. So he relied on his instinct.

“I tried to treat Justin as I would want to be treated. A person can only handle so much, and I knew our staff was a team and could handle things while he grieved,” Steve said.

Back in Tennessee, Justin’s support network kicked into action.

Justin’s Extension family drove, some more than 100 miles, to the funeral. Cards poured in from across the state. The 4-H youth leadership team he worked with pooled their money and sent a wreath.

“I still have that wreath hanging on my front door. It’s starting to fade, but every day when I walk out, I look at it and think of the memory of my brother and that a group of 4-H’ers cared enough about me to do that,” Justin said.

This is Part 1 of 4 from our first series of stories about grief and loss. Read parts 2, 3, and 4.


Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music. 

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.