Moods and emotional states can be contagious. As empathetic beings we are attuned to the ways that other people present themselves – their body language, facial expression, sense of calm or rush, and general comfort – and this awareness can affect the way others in a group feel and act.
A person with dementia retains their emotional awareness, their ability to be sense and understand the emotional state of others. This includes being able to read the non-verbal messages communicated through facial expression, body position, body tension, tone of voice, and mood. Your participants will sense if you are rushed, distracted or stressed. They will sense your emotional state and your demeanor will affect the mood of the program.
You are seated in a classroom or a gallery space and the facilitator comes rushing in, with a stack of papers, phone in hand, not quite aware of the people they are about to face. They stop, drop their materials on a table, apologize for being late, talk about all the things that have just happened to them, and then rush right into the start of the program… How do you feel?
Like your participants, you will sense rush, anxiety and ill preparedness. You will feel uncertain about what is about to happen, and if this person even knows what they are doing. You will not have had any time to adjust or transition into the program, and will likely adopt a lot of the anxiety and discomfort you have just witnessed.
No matter what has happened in your day, always stop and take a breath. Never rush through your introductions or any of the first steps. Start by introducing yourself and welcoming everyone (by name) and ensuring that everyone is ready and has what they need. Tell them the agenda for the day, and check in with everyone to see how they are feeling. If your program has to be shortened slightly as a result, then do so.