Last summer, I completed training to become an on-call advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. My primary duty is to answer the hotline phone after business hours. The types of calls range from rescheduling appointments with fulltime advocates to being called in to perform on-site services for sexual assault examinations at the local hospital. Calls to this hotline are all to be taken seriously. There is no way to predict what types of phone calls will be received during a shift.
The first time that I worked an on-call shift, I was incredibly nervous!
What if I don't hear the phone ring in the middle of the night?
What if the phone service isn't very good?
What if I get a call while I'm already on the line?
What if I get called to the hospital?
What if I do not know the answer to a question right away?
What if I mess up?
How often is the phone going to ring?
The first time I worked an on-call shift, I just stared at the on-call phone for the first hour of my shift. I just kept wondering why the phone was not ringing yet. I had the phone for an entire hour and nothing happened not even the following hour or the next.
When I answered my first phone call, I realized that all the nerves dissipated and I was entirely focused on the person who was speaking on the other phone line.
I assumed that this feeling would subside after I had more experience working the on-call phone. However, even after doing this volunteer work for several months, and gaining experience with a wide variety of types of calls, I was finding myself still super nervous. From the minute I would turn the on-call phone on, to the last few seconds of the 16-hour shift, I always felt on-edge when the phone was not ringing.
Then I had a realization.
Mindfulness is the act of paying attention in a particular way, on purpose and nonjudgmentally. When you are mindful, you are completely immersed in the reality of what is commencing in real life, not ruminating about past experiences or worrying about what may (or may not!) happen in the future. Your mind is linked with your physical body, right here in the present and nowhere else.
I needed to be mindful when on-call. Rather than worrying about when (or if!) the phone was going to ring, I needed to continue being present with other things that were going on. When the phone actually rings, then it was even more crucial to be mindful because I needed to give the caller my entire attention in order to be able to assist them to the best of my abilities.
The opposite of mindfulness is worrying about how things unfold in the future. Constantly worrying about the next phone call was not helpful at all. Personally, it increased my stress hormones for no reason. I was unable to get anything accomplished and would never sleep through the night because I was so anxious about the phone ringing. There have been a couple of times when I never even received a call for an entire shift. There have also been a couple of times when I received back to back to back calls followed by a trip to the hospital for on-site advocacy.
This reiterates the unpredictability of on-call work while simultaneously demonstrating the need for being mindful while working.
You are always able to figure out what to do to help the person calling in. On-call work is challenging, yet immensely rewarding. The most nerve-wracking part seems to be waiting for that phone to ring. Here's a friendly reminder to anyone who takes on the amazing act of on-call work: stay mindful because it will help you to personally get accustomed to having the on-call phone with you without over-stressing and it will allow you to be in a much better mental state to answer and fully assist people when you finally do get that phone call.