Last week I spent several evenings as Sheltering Operations Manager for the San Diego American Red Cross. That means I was the Headquarters level contact between the volunteers in the field and everyone who supports their efforts. The shelter had a small population, so all in all, the evenings weren't that busy. However, there was one night that I started to feel a lot of anxiety. From 7pm-9pm on Wednesday I had no way to contact the shelter. I saw no news as bad news.
I had three numbers to call if I needed to talk to the shelter. One was a Red Cross provided mobile phone, the others were volunteers' personal cells. From seven to nine I called each number four times and received no answer. Now, I didn't have to contact the shelter with important information at the time. This was a, "hey, how's it going out there," call. Still, no communication between the field and HQ is a bad thing and around 7:45 I started to feel really anxious.
The anxiety was being created by a number of thoughts. First, was I doing all I could do? I take my role seriously. I don't want to be the one who drops the ball. I thought about driving out to the shelter to check up to visit the site, which was in the mountains an hour East of San Diego. Second, I was a bit fearful for the shelter residents. The shelter was opened because of a very large wildfire. Had a new one popped up? Were they evacuating to another location? This thought was pretty ridiculous since we don't choose shelter locations that are in fire paths, but hey, maybe things went wrong? Third, what if the evening shift hadn't arrived? Were our clients alone out there? Here I had passed into madness. The day shift would never leave a shelter without a replacement, and the day shift shelter manager was literally our most experienced Red Crosser. Still, the thought was there and I felt all the physical hallmarks of nervousness, up to breaking out in a sweat.
I'm sure any Stoic reading this is saying, "Matt buddy, what are you doing to yourself?" I know! I'm supposed to win the battle against these thoughts. What can I say, they crept in when I was distracted. I had to fight a defensive battle. I practiced Stoic Triage. What is in my control? What is not in my control? Of the three main thoughts running through my head, the only thing I could control was the first one. Was I doing the best job I could do? I was. I chose to push a little harder to assure myself of this. I checked some sources to make sure I hadn't missed any important information and I texted some people to let them know what was up. I also developed a plan to send someone out to check on the shelter if necessary. All the other thoughts were out of control, so I threw them away.
Stoics are indifferent to things outside their control (ideally). Burning emotional energy on imaginary events is not productive for me or anyone else. My duty was to do my job well. So I did. New perspective lead to a calm, productive night.
Oh, and the Red Cross phone's ringer was mute while the personal cells were out of earshot. I received that info from the shelter around nine. The volunteers and shelter clients had been playing cards and eating popcorn for the past two hours. Good thing I worried, right?
So that was one of the battles of my week. I let a situation become stressful, but was able to regain a reasonable mindset once I recognized it. Practice makes the prokopton!*
Thus in life also the chief business is this: distinguish and separate things, and say, "Externals are not in my power: will is in my power. Where shall I seek the good and the bad? Within, in the things which are my own." But in what does not belong to you call nothing either good or bad, or profit or damage or anything of the kind.
-Epictetus, Discourses Book 2, Chapter 5
*Yes, I ended with a Stoic joke. I'm a dork like that. Prokopton = Stoic student/practitioner