Many of us have experienced the last 5 months as an unusual time warp, where time seems to be both accelerated and delayed. There’s an intensity to this time at a level that is foreign to most of us. The pandemic, the heightened awareness of racial disparities, systemic and overt racism has predictably raised stress, exacerbated anxiety, called into question our feelings of safety and security. And yet it is these events that have drawn us to act. As a nation, as a state, as communities, and as individuals we are using this time to wrestle with critical concepts, make decisions, innovate to meet current needs, and carve new paths forward.
When we think of the basics of stress, adversity, and trauma, we are well-aware of the toll on our physiology. We know that when we, as humans, experience a threat to our safety we are most active in our limbic and brainstem regions, activated in fight, flight, freeze responses. Our pre-frontal cortex and other centers in our brain that help us apply logic, reason, prioritize, regulate, and plan are less accessible to us. We may feel more rigid, more reactive, less able to engage in new learning, and have trouble remembering why we entered one room from the other -let alone access creative thought, vision and innovation! If most of us feel like this, much of the time, how then can we rise to meet current challenges? How can we plan ahead with the sand shifting underneath our feet and the landscape ahead unclear? There are certainly no simplistic answers, but by applying what we know about trauma and resilience, we can take meaningful steps forward.
First and foremost, we understand we must regulate the stress response in ourselves and alongside our colleagues. This is not new information in the field of trauma-informed care, yet it remains a growth opportunity for most. We simply do not practice what we preach. Now more than ever, reducing the symptoms of stress is essential to our care for ourselves, our organizational health, and care for individuals we serve. Actions you can take: walks, deep breath, practice gratitude, sleep and good nutrition. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg reminds us that our strategy for self-care can often be found by finishing this sentence: “I ____ed it out”. Self-care may include a 10-minute stretch, turning off your computer and phone at the end of the workday, and limiting your media consumption. But a critical question is for us all to reflect on what gets in our way and address these barriers. To create a culture of self-care in our organization we must practice, role-model and encourage others to do the same.
Work as a Team
When crafting plans and strategies it is always helpful to work with many stakeholders. One person is never as smart as a collective, and teamwork allows unconscious biases to be challenged while creating a space for new and creative thought. Working as team has the added benefit of allowing the ability for team members to practice self-care. There are more hands, brains, and shoulders to carry the responsibility so 1. The overall perception of the stress may be reduced and 2. Team members can exert more effort and energy on less reactive days and take moments of ease when their own stress experience rises.
Remember that your team may also extend to others outside your organization. You may partner with other organizations like your own to address common challenges. You may also create or join community tables, to address challenges from a variety of perspectives and share resources. Working together benefits all.
In the field of Crisis Response, we recognize that our greatest asset in disaster recovery is community cohesion. Prioritize this concept to guide your actions and decisions. Every communication, support intervention, and action can be crafted to directly or indirectly support building community and shared understanding. We can also guard against threats to our feelings of community -when we fear our neighbor, need to compete with our neighbor, or being to blame our neighbor our sense of belonging is undermined. This approach also reminds us to start with meeting basic needs where possible, building feelings of safety, connection and support positive adaptation; effective coping. Proactively building this critical aspect of individual and collective resilience while diligently addressing these factors positions us all to promote the best possible outcomes for ourselves, our organization, and our community.