Support for Disaster and Trauma Responders

Posted Oct 12, 2016

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Summary

  • Talk to someone about your experiences.
  • Practice separating work and family life.
  • Take care of your physical health.

Jim worked in public safety. He was often in charge of a team that brought people out of burning buildings. One time he saw a severely burned unconscious man who couldn’t be helped. Afterward, he became over-protective of his team and people in his personal life. He constantly waited for disaster to strike. He nagged his family about wearing a seatbelt and making sure matches were out. His always tense, hyper-aware state took a toll on his relationships. Eventually, his wife persuaded him to speak with a mental health professional.

Jim’s experience is common for first responders or people who take care of others. Helping people in disasters or who are victims of trauma creates “emotional labor” or “compassion fatigue.” This means the helper can become tense and preoccupied about the bad events that he sees. He can experience the negative effects too.

1. Admit that you are upset

Often first responders or caregivers don’t like admitting that things get to them. A person who likes to do the care taking isn’t always comfortable being taken care of. But the sooner she starts, the easier it is to resolve and heal

It is normal to be upset in these lines of work. It shouldn’t be seen as a weakness. People should ask for help and accept it; they shouldn’t wait for it to be absolutely necessary.
 
Talking to somebody can help. A lot of workplaces offer support groups. Friends, family members, or a mental health professional are also good options.

2. Separate your personal life from your work life.

When you are not at work, try not to think about work. Even when a person isn’t feeling anxiety from a disaster or traumatic event, he should have boundaries between his work and home life. This takes practice.

It can be achieved by having a daily routine or activity that keeps your mind off work. Exercise is great. So is a creative outlet such as cooking, music, art, dance, or some other hobby or class. Look for something that requires focus. If you watch a movie, it is easy for your mind to wander. You have to stay focused if you are cooking or creating something.

Set limits for how much you watch or read that is related to your work. Think carefully before you volunteer for extra work or causes. Your time away from work needs to be a break from those responsibilities.

3. Practice self-care

When a person feels the anxiety building, he can practice stress management. Practice deep breathing. Picture a calm and safe scene. Repeat phrases like “It’ll be OK.”

Eat well, stay hydrated, and increase the amount of sleep you get. If you feel physically recharged, you will be better able to recognize negative thoughts and fears.

It can be hard to feel positive about your work when there are people who need your services. Some events can also seem beyond your control. Remember that you are making a difference and helping during a difficult time.

Resources

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
www.compassionfatigue.org/

“Overcoming Compassion Fatigue” by John-Henry Pfifferling, PhD, and Kay Gilley, MS. American Academy of Family Physicians, www.aafp.org/fpm/2000/0400/p39.html

By Jennifer Brick
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, "Providing Psychosocial Support to Children and Families in the Aftermath of Disasters and Crises." Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/09/08/peds.2015-2861; Dr. John Farber, Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Talk to someone about your experiences.
  • Practice separating work and family life.
  • Take care of your physical health.

Jim worked in public safety. He was often in charge of a team that brought people out of burning buildings. One time he saw a severely burned unconscious man who couldn’t be helped. Afterward, he became over-protective of his team and people in his personal life. He constantly waited for disaster to strike. He nagged his family about wearing a seatbelt and making sure matches were out. His always tense, hyper-aware state took a toll on his relationships. Eventually, his wife persuaded him to speak with a mental health professional.

Jim’s experience is common for first responders or people who take care of others. Helping people in disasters or who are victims of trauma creates “emotional labor” or “compassion fatigue.” This means the helper can become tense and preoccupied about the bad events that he sees. He can experience the negative effects too.

1. Admit that you are upset

Often first responders or caregivers don’t like admitting that things get to them. A person who likes to do the care taking isn’t always comfortable being taken care of. But the sooner she starts, the easier it is to resolve and heal

It is normal to be upset in these lines of work. It shouldn’t be seen as a weakness. People should ask for help and accept it; they shouldn’t wait for it to be absolutely necessary.
 
Talking to somebody can help. A lot of workplaces offer support groups. Friends, family members, or a mental health professional are also good options.

2. Separate your personal life from your work life.

When you are not at work, try not to think about work. Even when a person isn’t feeling anxiety from a disaster or traumatic event, he should have boundaries between his work and home life. This takes practice.

It can be achieved by having a daily routine or activity that keeps your mind off work. Exercise is great. So is a creative outlet such as cooking, music, art, dance, or some other hobby or class. Look for something that requires focus. If you watch a movie, it is easy for your mind to wander. You have to stay focused if you are cooking or creating something.

Set limits for how much you watch or read that is related to your work. Think carefully before you volunteer for extra work or causes. Your time away from work needs to be a break from those responsibilities.

3. Practice self-care

When a person feels the anxiety building, he can practice stress management. Practice deep breathing. Picture a calm and safe scene. Repeat phrases like “It’ll be OK.”

Eat well, stay hydrated, and increase the amount of sleep you get. If you feel physically recharged, you will be better able to recognize negative thoughts and fears.

It can be hard to feel positive about your work when there are people who need your services. Some events can also seem beyond your control. Remember that you are making a difference and helping during a difficult time.

Resources

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
www.compassionfatigue.org/

“Overcoming Compassion Fatigue” by John-Henry Pfifferling, PhD, and Kay Gilley, MS. American Academy of Family Physicians, www.aafp.org/fpm/2000/0400/p39.html

By Jennifer Brick
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, "Providing Psychosocial Support to Children and Families in the Aftermath of Disasters and Crises." Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/09/08/peds.2015-2861; Dr. John Farber, Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Talk to someone about your experiences.
  • Practice separating work and family life.
  • Take care of your physical health.

Jim worked in public safety. He was often in charge of a team that brought people out of burning buildings. One time he saw a severely burned unconscious man who couldn’t be helped. Afterward, he became over-protective of his team and people in his personal life. He constantly waited for disaster to strike. He nagged his family about wearing a seatbelt and making sure matches were out. His always tense, hyper-aware state took a toll on his relationships. Eventually, his wife persuaded him to speak with a mental health professional.

Jim’s experience is common for first responders or people who take care of others. Helping people in disasters or who are victims of trauma creates “emotional labor” or “compassion fatigue.” This means the helper can become tense and preoccupied about the bad events that he sees. He can experience the negative effects too.

1. Admit that you are upset

Often first responders or caregivers don’t like admitting that things get to them. A person who likes to do the care taking isn’t always comfortable being taken care of. But the sooner she starts, the easier it is to resolve and heal

It is normal to be upset in these lines of work. It shouldn’t be seen as a weakness. People should ask for help and accept it; they shouldn’t wait for it to be absolutely necessary.
 
Talking to somebody can help. A lot of workplaces offer support groups. Friends, family members, or a mental health professional are also good options.

2. Separate your personal life from your work life.

When you are not at work, try not to think about work. Even when a person isn’t feeling anxiety from a disaster or traumatic event, he should have boundaries between his work and home life. This takes practice.

It can be achieved by having a daily routine or activity that keeps your mind off work. Exercise is great. So is a creative outlet such as cooking, music, art, dance, or some other hobby or class. Look for something that requires focus. If you watch a movie, it is easy for your mind to wander. You have to stay focused if you are cooking or creating something.

Set limits for how much you watch or read that is related to your work. Think carefully before you volunteer for extra work or causes. Your time away from work needs to be a break from those responsibilities.

3. Practice self-care

When a person feels the anxiety building, he can practice stress management. Practice deep breathing. Picture a calm and safe scene. Repeat phrases like “It’ll be OK.”

Eat well, stay hydrated, and increase the amount of sleep you get. If you feel physically recharged, you will be better able to recognize negative thoughts and fears.

It can be hard to feel positive about your work when there are people who need your services. Some events can also seem beyond your control. Remember that you are making a difference and helping during a difficult time.

Resources

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
www.compassionfatigue.org/

“Overcoming Compassion Fatigue” by John-Henry Pfifferling, PhD, and Kay Gilley, MS. American Academy of Family Physicians, www.aafp.org/fpm/2000/0400/p39.html

By Jennifer Brick
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, "Providing Psychosocial Support to Children and Families in the Aftermath of Disasters and Crises." Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/09/08/peds.2015-2861; Dr. John Farber, Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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