For many years, I was employed as an Activity Director or Life Enrichment Coordinator in a senior living community. Physical and mental exhaustion were almost monthly experiences. Each month had at least one major event that required lots of leg work, planning, coordinating, set-up/clean-up that usually fell heaviest on the activity department.

Emotional exhaustion would hit with little warning – residents would die, staff would change, the corporation managing our facility would change…. There were days I was emotionally spent.

As many of my social media connections are with activity directors and music therapists working in senior living communities, I asked a few what activities/events wear them down at work. Here are some of the responses:

  • Outings – The physical labor of transferring residents from wheelchairs to bus seats and then back again.
  • Big events such as National Nursing Home Week, Grandparents Day, Grandchildren’s Day, Take Your Child to Work Day and Holiday Party
  • Large themed events and dinner parties
  • Bingo! (I’ll let you in on a secret. Many of us including me detest it but offer it as the residents enjoy it. However, the complaining and other petty silly stuff that goes into that game makes it emotionally draining to lead.)  
  • Documentation – care-plan meetings, logging outings and events, … (For me it was the LONG meetings and not the documentation that were an issue.)
  • State Survey (Emotionally draining as it often gets residents on edge. It was common for a resident or 2 to ask if we could get the surveyors to leave. The staff often felt stressed having people looking over their shoulders all day. Yes, surveys are important. They tell us what is going well and where we can improve. But, having to alter to schedule to meet with and answer questions from surveyors is a challenge.)
  • Christmas/the month of December (Another secret – EVERYONE wants to DO something in facilities in December. It is a scheduling nightmare for both the calendar and the staff sides. If you want to be remembered, volunteer to come in January when people are feeling forgotten.)

One wise person shared this:

But face it … It feels so good to love what you do and to lay your head down and sleep…

They are correct. It does feel good to love what you do. It does put a smile on your face when you have made a difference in the lives of others. But, that doesn’t lessen the energy sucking events.

Here are 3 ways to win the battle over energy sucking events.

#1. Keep your commitments manageable.

dealing with energy sucking  events
This is #1 because it where I struggle the most. Most of us underestimate the amount of time some requires. The blog post I think will take only 30 minutes to write may take an hour. While I set aside 15 minutes to clean my kitchen, it takes 20. I get really excited about the times something takes less than I thought.

The point is, we tend to take on too much. We say “yes” when we should say “no thank you”. It is okay to have commitments to yourself and your family. It is okay to set aside time for those priorities.

I’ll be the first to admit as an employee (and as a business owner) it is difficult to say “I don’t have time to do that.” of “Which is more important to you: project a or b? I don’t have time for both.”

I am really growing into this idea of margins in our schedule. It is easier to add things in or address an extra if you don’t need that margin time that day. Which leads into our next item…

#2. Prioritize and organize for the event.

Currently I am reading/listening to The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller. It speaks of the importance of focusing on a single thing.

“Long hours spent checking off a to-do list and ending the day with a full trash can and a clean desk are not virtuous and have nothing to do with success. Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.

To-do lists tend to be long; success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions; the other aims you in a specific direction. One is a disorganized directory and the other is an organized directive. If a list isn’t built around success, then that’s not where it takes you. If your to-do list contains everything, then it’s probably taking you everywhere but where you really want to go.”

My personal take is we have a single thing for each role in our life, for each role or service area in our job.  There will be more than a single thing on my list. I am learning to have a top thing that MUST BE completed each day for each role in my life. As much as possible, I do that thing first in the time slot to which it is assigned.

Whether we are a music therapist or an activity director, our focus is likely helping our residents live a quality life (a very TALL order). Yes, the paperwork IS important. It is trail that proves our work. We do the thing, then we document it. The fact is we MUST set aside time to document. Plan for that time to document, to set-up the event, to clean-up the event, to transport people to and from, etc.

One of the big surprises for me YEARS ago was an administrator who thought most of my activities lasted only 15 minutes. He was shocked to find out it last 45 minutes and the time it took to set-up and clean-up. We need to realize this ourselves. We need to educate others to this.

When we prepare for events, we need to make as complete a list as we can of what needs to happen. We MUST let others know what they can or must do.  (That includes our boss if you are an employee.)  This is the tie back to my ending statement on #1. “Which is more important….”.

#3. Set aside time for self-care.

The biggest thing I’ve learned in life is to block out “me” time. This wasn’t easy when my daughter was young. At those times, the “me” time often involved her.  But, IT IS okay to say “I’m sorry I have another commitment.” even if the commitment is yourself.

It is important to take your lunch break, to make time to go to the bathroom, to drink water, to sit for a moment and clear your mind.

The outings and big events need a LOT of time. Set aside time to reflect on what went well, what could go better and where others could help next time. If you’ve worked a 12 hour day, you need the next day (or some day shortly there after) to be shorter.

Set aside time to deal with the emotional drains of your job. It might mean setting aside a weekly or monthly check in for supervision or support.

Consider this quote fromThe ONE Thing:

“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

You are worthy of self-care.


Considering books are written on this subject, this isn’t the end all be all in ways to win the battle over energy sucking events.  It is my hope these the 3 tips provide support and encouragement.

If you have found it helpful, I hope you will check out the support offered to those serving older adults at Session Cafe. 

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