So, here we are. It’s another new year, and everything feels the same as it did last year, if not worse. It seemed like there was so much hope promised at the beginning of 2021. Many of us were scheduling our appointments for our first vaccines, and we were hopeful that the pandemic would be behind us by this time. How innocent and hopeful those days were.
How are you feeling about embarking on another year? Personally, I’m proud to be writing this on the other side of 2021 because it means I made it here. And if you’re reading this, you should be proud of yourself for making it as well.
I have always loved the hope of a new year. I love to buy a new planner and tell myself that this will be the year I will get organized. I’ll stop double booking myself and prioritize some time to myself. One wonderful thing that the pandemic did for me was helping me realize how much I overextended myself in the pre-covid days. I look back on those days and wonder how I had the energy to do it all. Today, it is too much for me to have more than one appointment on a day off. My time off is my source of power, where I gain strength. I now see that every moment I spend doing something I don’t want to do is an energetic waste.
I’ve recently become acquainted with the term “emotional labor,” which is how some label our work as Flight Attendants. Some of us have emotional labor in all facets of our lives, especially those of you who are mothers or caretakers of any other kind. Emotional labor requires a specific energetic performance that many don’t even realize they are tapping into. When I look back on my worst days on the job and consider this term, emotional labor, I’m struck with how heavy a load many of us carry every day. And I’m not talking about our suitcases, trays, or carts. I’m talking about the ways that we have the work of a product sold on our backs and try to do it with a smile big enough to bring people back, again and again. But how do we do that when masks hide our smiles? It’s no wonder that so many of us are exhausted.
I keep thinking about my new coworkers and how difficult this must be for them. The unpredictability of the schedules, the volatile nature of some passengers (and co-workers), on top of mounting fear of the financial impact of getting covid and not being able to work. It’s a lot. Yet, my own ability to do the emotional labor of carrying the weight of my new co-workers experience is not something I’m always available for. I try my best to listen and respect what they’re going through, but I also try to hold boundaries and space around the amount of negativity I let myself inhale. I have found a way to turn negativity around by responding with: “That sounds really hard. How are you going to take care of yourself today?”
“How are you taking care of yourself today?”
It is such an important question to ask yourself and others. At work, at home, on the job. All of it is important. More than ever, self-care is a necessity for those of doing emotional labor.
As for me, I have three specific ways that I care for myself. On the plane, I try to find the one passenger on board who seems like they’re the most willing to share a laugh or talk about a book. Connection makes me feel safe. On my overnights, I make it a point to be outside as much as I possibly can. Nature makes me feel revived. At home, I make sure that I spend as much time with my animals and my beloved friends and family as I can tolerate, but I also prioritize the moments that I have to myself. I build my schedule around therapy and exercise. I try my hardest to make myself at least 80% of the meals that I consume, because there is nothing better than taking care of myself in this loving manner. My home, my basement gym, my animals, and my kitchen remind me why I am blessed to do what I do. It’s nice to leave, but wow, is it good to return.
Sometimes when I get to my car, I think of the thousands of flight attendants around the world who are walking to their cars, getting on the train, or walking to their crash pads, who feel the same sort of waves of joy and despair that I do. It’s not easy work that we do, so if you’re struggling to carry the weight of all that you’ve been carrying lately, know that you are not alone. Each of us has a special way that we have learned to value ourselves in this job, This job, that has a price tag on our personalities, where a flight attendant’s bad day can equal the bad day of hundreds of other people. If you’re struggling to find your own special way to take care of yourself, I hope this is the year that you can find your way.
And if you’re struggling to find your own skills, know that you can borrow mine for a little while.