Acknowledge, Express, Act, Reconnect
What is Stress?
All of us, at some point in our lifetime, have experienced loss or change. It is the one thing that unites us as human beings. Grief and stress is the natural response to any loss or change in our lives – even positive change. Life will never be the same.
In these challenging times, we are living in what we call 360 Grief/Stress. Every area in impacted, every part of our life is affected. It is invisible and at this time has no end point. The two factors that make stress more intense are - being out of control and being isolated. Whether you are dealing with family members at home, or the enforced isolation of the pandemic, social unrest or personal losses - Stress is a spiral of feelings and reactions. It is not a line with a beginning and an end. It can be a roller coaster of surprising reactions.
We refer to them as landmines, because they are sudden and unexpected. There are three types of landmines: 1. Sensory Reminders, 2.Memory Reminders and 3.Time Reminders. Trauma research shows us that stress and trauma is taken in through the five senses, so even when our mind is keeping a distance, we are still imprinting in our brain all of the details of the illness, the trauma, the pain. Stress is taken in the body and processed through the senses. Caregiving and response professionals utilize their sensory input for vital information in performing their job on a daily basis. Response professionals, whether working with critical incidents, illness or traumatic grief, can absorb and respond to loss through the senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste. As a result, stress/trauma has imprinted on several sensory paths. This occurs in both witnessed trauma and imagined trauma.
Trauma and stress reactions know no time. It doesn't matter how long ago the trauma happened, sometimes, when we hit a landmine, it may feel like it happened yesterday.
The Backpack Effect – Present grief can tap into trauma/loss that has occurred in the past. So, we are not only dealing with present losses, but it can touch the past as well. The truth of grief is that it is eternal. All our stress meets in the moment of our present loss or trauma. What may help is to identify what has been brought up from the past – realizing it may have as much emotional impact as the present.
In our modern society, great emphasis is placed on what we do as a gauge of our worth as human beings. When we experience change, loss or transition in the work environment, it can have far reaching effects on our personal lives, our self-esteem as well as our beliefs and values. Dealing with change in the workplace and in our personal lives in a pro-active way can be a key factor both in individual and team performance and job satisfaction.
Emergency responders, public safety personnel and care-giving professionals are taught to be tough, and don't have the luxury of having a stress reaction because they have to do their job. So, it creates the responders' delayed reaction. People can seem 'fine' right after an incident, and then need support later on. As a care-giving/response professional, you are a part of the circle of care; therefore you are a part of the circle of stress/grief. Stress is an occupational hazard. It doesn't matter how intelligent or capable you are. The very qualities that make you a good responder are the very attributes that can make you vulnerable to stress responses. You may experience acute, delayed, cumulative and occupational stress. Stress is a physical, as well as emotional process that is normal in the aftermath of trauma or loss. Here are some strategies to support you.
The Bay Area CISM Team has created four steps to stress management – acknowledge, express, act and reconnect - to build the 'new normal':
Acknowledge what has happened to you and your reactions:
- Acknowledge the loss and the impact of the loss process. Honor your grief. It is a reflection of the depth of your love and caring. Don't minimize or negate your grief. The first step is to accept that you are a normal person living through an abnormally painful time. You are entitled to your feelings. Much of the grief response is very physical. Your body can react in many different ways. Grief also impacts us on a daily basis, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually. When you acknowledge the stress, it literally boosts the immune system.
- Focus on what is most difficult to handle RIGHT NOW.
- What do you need to do to help the situation RIGHT NOW.
Express your thoughts and issues:
- Express your feelings through talking, writing, talking into a tape recorder or physical movement. Writing a letter to the person you are missing or have unfinished business with is an excellent way to release bottled up emotions.
- Talk with others who are sympathetic and/or who have experienced similar losses. It helps to know you're not alone. Physically express through your body, by exercising, or doing some activity that requires exertion. Go on a 'Walk Talk'.
- Create as much meaning and ceremony as you can to bring completion to the event
- Do specific, concrete actions to facilitate the changes you are experiencing. Creating your own ceremonies can be very useful, often combining traditions that are meaningful with your own inspirations.
- Complete and bring closure to any unfinished business or unclear interactions with co-workers, friends, family and clients/patients.
- Do something playful, fun, and relaxing that is totally disconnected from work to balance the work stress.
- Normalize the rest of your life as much as possible. Do not change too much at one time. If there are other life changes you have no control over, acknowledge them. Realize that you only have to deal with the most pressing issue RIGHT NOW.
- Give yourself the opportunity to acknowledge your victories. Look back at what you have survived and accomplished. Acknowledge what is still meaningful and good in your life right now.
- Do something fun and life affirming which rewards you for a job well done.
Realize that your presence and caring, even when you cannot change an outcome, makes a powerful difference in the long-term recovery for the people you have encountered and supported in a critical incident. We have heard the thank you about you. On behalf of the 1.5 million people we have supported, we honor you for all you are and all you do.
Janet Childs, Director, Bay Area CISM Team