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By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
Solutions to Stressful Situations
by Marge Knoth
Activity directing is a great profession, but to the untrained eye it appears to be all fun
and games. Activity directors face numerous stresses of which others are often
oblivious. Even staff members who work with you daily have little concept of the weight
being carried upon your shoulders, a load that seems to increase daily. There is just
too much work, too much documentation, too many frustrations, too many interruptions,
too little appreciation, too little recognition, and too little time to spend with residents.
Recently I interviewed activity directors by phone and took an unofficial survey of the
obstacles and frustrations they face regularly. Of those polled, here are the 13 most
1) staff not cooperating
2) treating us like babysitters
3) thinking if we are not on the floor, we are not doing anything
4) thinking we have an easy job
5) thinking activities are not important
6) putting residents down for naps at activity time
7) clutter dumped in the activity room
8) my desk squeezed in the midst of a cluttered room
9) need care planning guidelines
10) constant interruptions, impossible to stay organized
11) too much paperwork, not enough time for residents
12) frustration, can’t get it all done
13) expecting too much of myself
No doubt you can relate to this list, and most probably even add a few of your own.
Activity directors are givers, often to a fault. You are gentle, caring, loving people who do
not want to make waves. You want to accommodate others, often at the expense of
yourselves. You would give until there is nothing left to give. But then what happens?
Think of yourself as a checking account. What happens if you keep spending after your
funds are gone? There is a steep price to pay. What is it, $20 or more for each
returned check or debit charge? And if you continue to overdraw, you may even go to
jail. In the same vein, what happens if you give away all you’ve got--energy, love, time,
patience? You burn out, or your body breaks down. Your home life can be affected.
Your marriage can be affected. Your friendships can be affected. But it doesn’t have to
be that way. Let’s look at some positive solutions to some of these stresses.
1) First, don’t expect to be liked by all the staff. It seldom happens. Many, perhaps
most, will think you are the greatest, but be sure that some will always gossip. Rather,
seek the respect of those who matter most. Try to form good working relationships with
key personnel. Granted, you may not even like each other, but you can develop working
relationships based on respect and professionalism.
2) Always see yourself as a professional, a department head equal in status to the
DON, the Social Service Director, and the dietitian. Never put yourself down saying
things like, “I’m a klutz,” or “Im so forgetful,” or “I wish I could get organized.” Others will
perceive you the way you present yourself. If you have a supportive DON, that is
wonderful. If not, respect her department and demand respect for yours. Do kind
things for those who may not show you that kindness. For instance, if you see an aide
struggling to get a resident into a chair, step in and help. If you come across
information that would be useful to the DON or SSD who are planning an inservice,
pass it along. Where possible, involve them in your activities, and share freebies with
3) Try to understand where disagreeable staff are coming from. They are often
frustrated in their jobs and personal lives, and are merely using you as the scapegoat
to unload on. Aides and kitchen help are often underpaid and have little decision-
making power. All they can do is complain. On the other hand, your job looks
glamorous. You have an office, wear pretty clothes, and have more freedom to come
and go. Be sympathetic to their feelings. Realize it is not you they are belittling, but
what they think you have that they don’t.
4) Communication is a wonderful key. Listen carefully when others are talking. We
become so busy forming our own response and determining how we can defend
ourselves, that we sometimes do not listen as well as we should. Consider holding an
inservice to help the staff really understand what activities are about, and the many
duties for which you are responsible. Explain how important activities are to the
residents, and why they need to take part.
5) Be quick to forgive. An older lady taught me a valuable lesson in forgiveness. It
works great in the activity field, and in life in general. It is called “the concept of instant
forgiveness.” When someone hurts you, immediately (don’t wait 30 seconds) begin
saying to yourself (sometimes through gritted teeth at first) “I choose to forgive. I
choose to forgive.” It is amazing how it works. The more you say it, the more you are
able to truly forgive. Forgiveness prevents bitterness, revenge, unrest, and guilt from
settling in your heart. You find yourself at peace while the other person is still stewing.
6) Find those who can reinforce, or build you up. Hopefully you can find them in your
facility, but if not, seek them elsewhere. Do not hesitate to pick up the phone and call
another A.D. and say “Help!” Build yourself up, too, by treating yourself occasionally to a
new hair style, a new book, or an evening out with your special someone.
7) Baby yourself on difficult days. There seems to be an unwritten rule that activity
directors are not supposed to have down days. Be especially good to yourself on those
days. Delegate where you can. Postpone an activity if need be, and get yourself out of
the facility. Go shopping for supplies, go out to lunch with a friend, or take some alert
residents out for coffee or pizza. If you cannot get out, spend some quiet time in your
office cleaning files or evaluating your overall program.
8) Lower your expectations for yourself. Realize you cannot do everything. When
running a race, if you begin too quickly you soon tire, just when you should be building
momentum. In the same way, begin your day at a slower pace. Plan as much as
possible on paper before you actually start doing activities and other duties. Pace
yourself throughout the day, regularly referring to your written plan so you are not
running in all directions.
9) Strive for organization, but don’t expect miracles. Keep a master list on your desk
and write down everything you must do now, or at some future date–a phone call, go
shopping, order something, send thank-you notes, plan a party, etc. Before you toss
anything in your to-do basket, or file it, jot it on your master list. Take great pleasure in
crossing off the items when completed. Utilize fully whatever space you have, an office
or a corner in the activity room. Seek to keep your desktop clean, working on only one
thing at a time (difficult as it seems) –charting, planning, ordering, correspondence.
Assign a particular table, large basket, or corner, and insist things dropped off in your
office be placed there, and no where else.
10) Make yourself a win list. What is a win list? It is a written list of personal successes
or encouragements. They do not always have to be big ones. It may be an award you
received, a word of praise from your administrator, or an accomplishment. Perhaps
you lost ten pounds last year and kept them off. Jot it down. A little note hung for many
years on my office desk light that simply said, “Somebody loves you.” My hubby of 47
years left it one day when I was not there. It is a constant reminder that someone
cares. An activity director once dropped me a note that said, “Your materials have been
among my most valuable staff-training aids.” As a writer, one is far removed from
readers, so that little note was an encouragement to me to “keep on keeping on.”
These are on my win list. Create one for yourself. When things are going badly, refer to
your win list and encourage yourself a bit.
We do not want to dwell on the negatives, yet it is vital to be aware of the common
stresses activity directors face, and to keep on top of them. If you don’t, they can mount
up and soon you will find yourself facing burnout. But the stresses you face can be
positive. They can uncover strengths you did not know you possessed. They can
sharpen your professional skills. They can help you grow and become the person you
want to be.
Being an activity director is a wonderful challenging career indeed. Yes, there are
stresses, but you as a professional activity director can handle them. When things get
tough, though, just remind yourself...
Every flower that ever bloomed had to go through a whole lot of dirt to get there.