Disaster & Compassion Fatigue: Tips for Leaders, Human Resources, & Everyone Else Who's Human
I woke this morning blissfully unaware yet another tragedy was unfolding.
Didn't look at the iPhone & went straight to the kitchen to let out the dog and start the coffee. Inspired by a walk with a friend on Sunday, a day in the mountains with my husband on Saturday, and by colleagues and friends at an HR conference last week, I focused on being mindful today. Thinking through my priorities, getting my work space in order, and planning for a fabulous day along the Front Range of the Rockies as my family and neighborhood slowly started to wake up for another week.
One hour later: Husband sits on sofa with a (terrible? sad? shocked?) expression on his face. There was a mass shooting in Vegas. The same Vegas he & I visited one year ago, this very weekend, to celebrate his birthday. The same Vegas we'd planned to visit later this month with our daughter to see some fabulous, family-friendly shows. The shootings were in a concert venue right next to our hotel from last year. People are dead. Lots of them. Families are devastated. Fear and unimaginable emotions are gripping people - good people - right now.
(Oh my god...not another one.)
I watch the news for updates, then realize a good friend traveled west for a conference. Damn! Was that California? Vegas? Where the hell is she? Find the phone and check her usually active Twitter feed. No activity. Find the hashtag for the conference and finally figure out she's in another Western state. (relief)
(Who else do I know in Vegas? Anyone else traveling? Any old hotel colleagues working there these days? My mind shifts to overdrive to recall who moved there, who posted on social media this weekend. Must check Facebook. Double-check Twitter feed.)
(F***. Not again. Not more shootings. Not more despair, sadness, pain, evil, fear, heart-wrenching loss.)
And then, my brain says....shake it off. You've got to get back to work, get the kids to school, follow up with the client, finish that blog that's due...
(Guilt. How horrible that I'm focusing on my own life when there are people out there wondering where their family members are. Or dealing with the knowledge that they are gone forever.)
(Ugh. Not again. I don't have time for this. What a horrible thing to think. I don't have energy for this.)
This is Disaster Fatigue.
I thought we, as a society, had Disaster Fatigue as we got ready for the second hurricane. (I only donated to the American Red Cross ONCE. Does that make me a bad person?) And the earthquakes. (How many were there? Wasn't there a mudslide somewhere?) And then the fallout as the US struggles to provide aid to Puerto Rico. And now, a mass shooting.
This is Disaster Fatigue. It is real. We get numb. We feel guilty. We want to withdraw.
(How can I help?)
Of course, I consult Google. Trauma Fatigue...Disaster Fatigue...PTSD. There must be something practical I can share.
(Maybe my friend Nathan, the hospital chaplain at a trauma hospital, has something...note to self: Check in with Nathan. He'd be a great speaker on compassion and fatigue.)
This is my mind "on disasters." (Who do I know? How can I help?) I want to cry for them, but I'm cried out and I have to take care of my own people, clients, friends, neighbors, kids... (Does that make me a bad person because my life isn't collapsing around me? Won't my clients be irritated if that email is late? Am I selfish for actually thinking about my business? WWJD? WWBuddhaDo? WWBreneBrownDo? WWTonyRobbinsDo? WWOprahDo? WWAGoodCaringPersonDo?)
This is my brain on disasters.
Shock...lots of thoughts...sadness...then real life...then guilt...then real life...("Gottagetthekidstoschool")..then numbness.
All these disasters over the years and I was never directly impacted. But my heart hurts for others and my brain gets foggy every time.
So, here's my "give" this AM. My "help." I found this article that's an easy read. It's written for Disaster Responders. Unfortunately, there's a lot of disaster to go around and "There, but for the Grace of God, go I." This disaster isn't in my front yard. But I remember 9-11, working at Disneyland and that feeling when we were sent home. (Are we a target?) I remember Hurricane Katrina and being worried about my now-husband, who lived there, and was safe, but MIA to me for a few days. I remember my friends in Colorado Springs who were impacted by the fires. Two fires. I remember the flooding up here near Boulder right after we moved. There, but for luck, grace, whatever you want to call it...my loved ones and I didn't take a direct hit.
But I remember the feelings. And so do some of you.
Or the people you lead remember - or the people you work with - or the employees you support as an HR leader - or the neighbors around you in your community. You get the point. There are people who are impacted each time there's a disaster. And some are numb - and feeling guilty. Others just move on - because they can't do anything else. Or that's their resilience, their "giving back." Hit right back and be normal. Live life well. It's normal.
Here's what jumped out when I scanned this article - because it is NOT just for First Responders, or Disaster Responders: The signs of Burnout & Secondary Stress could apply to anyone following these tragic events.
Here are a few I pulled from the article provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Recognize anyone? Yourself? Maybe not yet? I guarantee that SOMEONE in your circle is feeling something. Do you recognize in yourself or hear in others any of these signs of Compassion Burnout or Stress? For example, feeling:
Hopeless, as if nothing you can do will help
Tired—even exhausted—and overwhelmed
Tired of hearing about it
Frustrated, cynical, depressed
Disconnected from others, lacking feelings, indifferent
Wondering if you need to use alcohol or other mind-altering substances to cope
Fearful in situations you wouldn't typically consider frightening
Excessively worrying that something bad will happen to you, your loved ones, or colleagues
Easily startled, feeling “jumpy” or “on guard” all of the time
Wary of every situation, expecting a traumatic outcome
Physically impacted, like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and increased tension headaches
Haunted by the troubles you see and hear from others and not being able to make them go away
Encompassed: that others’ trauma is yours
And here are the tips for coping with Compassion Fatigue below.
I've added a few. We've heard these before - over and over. They bear repeating because we need reminding when there is so much "noise" in the world:
Focus on the four core components of resilience: adequate sleep, good nutrition, regular physical activity, and active relaxation (e.g., yoga or meditation).
Don't overdose on the news or social media.
Get enough sleep.
Rest your mind. Meditate, be mindful, give your brain downtime in a way that works for you.
My favorite "mind break;" 20 minutes with headphones listening to one of these: Any of the Relaxation or Healing Mind recordings by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, Brainspotting by David Grand, or one of the many rain or ocean sounds loops available on iTunes.
Drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.
Eat the best quality food you can. Eat for nutrition.
Take care of basic hygiene. Taking a shower, washing hands, etc. symbolically "washes away" those negative feelings.
Dress well; it lifts you - and others - up. Note to self: Wear an uplifting but soothing color today. Color impacts not just me, but others.
Be gentle and nonjudgmental of yourself and others.
If you are a leader, HR professional, or business owner: Watch for signs of mental health stress and provide resources to your staff.
So, was this sharing helpful for you? Or was it selfishly just therapy for me to write it down this morning?
Hopefully, at least one person will get something out of this so I can say "yes" to the first question. And, to be honest, the answer to the second question is "Yes, writing it down and sharing was helpful for me." This is my sanity. And my attempt at giving to others. I'm a research geek, so I found you an article. (Check. Phew. I did something. I tried to help.) Here's the link one more time:
Today's Call to Action:
Be aware of how hearing about (yet another) tragedy might impact you and people around you and offer support.
If this impacts you, take care of yourself.
If this doesn't impact you, identify one thing you can do to spread some positive energy out there in the world today. I don't mean insincere or inappropriate cheerleading. I mean, in the midst of all this tragedy, what is one thing you can do to lift someone else up? It can be a tiny gesture, like holding a door or letting someone through in traffic. Spread some positive vibes.
Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash