Our role as helpers is very important while we provide support to others who are going through grief and trauma as a result of Hurricane Harvey. It is crucial to recognize that during this vulnerable time, self-care is more important than ever. It is a good thing we are all having different experiences which help us to be better able to support each other.
I have been experiencing survivor’s guilt, which is a thought process or condition regarding feelings of guilt or shame about surviving a traumatic event. I am not experiencing a tenth of what others are experiencing, my family and I got lucky!
As I went to volunteer at the shelter with my kiddos, I caught myself feeling shame. After a couple of hours, I got hungry (which everyone human being feels) and my feet started to hurt. I caught myself having shaming thoughts about my healthy human condition of wanting to meet my hunger needs and take a break from walking. I recognized that those thoughts were not healthy.
The truth is, that “self-care” can help us become better helpers and caregivers. Are you aware that you can experience something called “secondary trauma?” this is indirectly experiencing trauma from just hearing someone’s story! Secondary trauma is also known as “compassion fatigue,” so this is important to pay attention to. It would be very hard for you to support others if you are suffering from secondary trauma. The more your central nervous system is stable, the better you can be ready to help stabilize others and they can be in a better position to fully heal.
Here are five things you can do: Self-care for helpers.
1) Nurture your social connections/attachments:
I am sure you have heard the huge buzz about “attachment” and you are aware of the abundance of research on what secure attachment can provide for us. Keeping some of the research in mind, you recall the focus on how it can help with our healing, both emotionally and physically. We are wired as human beings to be have secure relationships/attachments. This alone will teach our nervous systems to self-regulate, or go into a healing mode. This means that our bodies won’t reach a point outside our tolerance of pain. If, however, it does, we can bring it back to that healing mode because we have a reference point.
We are then able to cope within our tolerance of pain. However, when we go too far beyond our tolerance, then healing and working through painful situations cannot happen. Healthy relationships are crucial to our healing and stress.
There are a few things we can do to be consistent with nurturing our secure attachments. First, remind yourself you are worthy of love and belonging (you are lovable.) Second, figure out your love language and your loved ones’ love language(s.) Be vulnerable to ask “to get your love language needs met” and be wise enough to meet your spouse’s love language needs in the way they prefer. Third, make your relationship safe for you and the other person to be open about vulnerable feelings while not being judgmental, and while offering forgiveness, compassion and ownership of your part in the pain as well. Fourth, be sure to validate your spouse’s emotions. You don’t need to fix it. Just be supportive.
2) Be aware of your own needs:
When it comes to self-care, it is extremely important to be aware of and listen to your body and take ownership of it. God gave us our beautiful bodies with many different functions. It is our job to show respect to our bodies, because no one else can do it for us. Have a drink of water when you’re thirsty, rest if you are tired, eat when you’re hungry, play, laugh, cry, do some physical activity, and express yourself. Also, give yourself permission to take a break from the news and social media. Too much of anything isn’t healthy. In addition, part of finding your balance consists of reducing stress by paying attention to your body.
Mindfulness and relaxation have never failed me. There are many grounding and mindfulness practices that can help with reducing stress such as deep breathing, yoga, positive self-talk, creating a safe place, and progressive relaxation. You can practice any of these techniques, anywhere. For example, if you are on your way home from volunteering at the shelter or helping with a cleanup, you can focus on your breathing , or the scenery or even just count (I know it sounds weird, but it is calming!) .
I know with Hurricane Harvey, there were countless situations where crisis workers (police, doctors, nurses, therapists, and rescues) were working hours on end and they didn’t have the luxury of opting out of helping, because of the pressure of life or death was in their hands, and every second of the day was so valuable. It was important for people in that situation to listen to their body, seek support, and debrief after every situation.
3. Be realistic about how you can help:
There are many ways you can offer your service and help. For example, you may be a stay-home parent, taking care of your young children while your spouse is working or helping others with the cleanup. You can do laundry for others, make baked goods, write notes to the victims of the Hurricane, and be a listening ear for a friend who experienced trauma that left a lot of victims. It’s really import to understand your limitations and you are not selfish for doing so. Another example would be someone who suffers from the chronic back pain, it wouldn’t be wise to help with cleanup and tearing down dry wall.
4. Be aware of your shame thoughts and combat them with a healthy story:
Every human has over 50,000 thoughts a day and some of those thoughts and stories we tell ourselves are distorted. For example, ”I am not worthy, I am selfish, I am dumb,” and the list goes on. Such thoughts can provoke the defeated feelings of being a failure or unworthiness. For example, if I am telling myself that I am selfish because I need to rest or go to the gym then my feelings are going to result in me feeling bad about myself. It’s important to pay attention to our stories and reframe the story to a healthier story. Healthier Story: “I can better help others if go to the gym and eat. And, I will have some energy to give to my spouse and children to meet their needs.”
5) Finding balance:
My balance is going to look very different from yours because our situations are not identical. I have a husband who needs me to be supportive of him, and I have three kids ranging from 1-11 years old to nurture. In addition, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and own a full practice in Houston and in The Woodlands. More so, I feel it is an honor and also my duty to support my clients during this catastrophic event known as Hurricane Harvey.
Time management is going to be important in this process to get our priorities together, and one way you can do this is use Sunday (the beginning of the week) to do good family planning. This may include family time (ask for feedback from your children and your spouse and find out if you are meeting their emotional needs.) It may also include work, food preparation, kids’ sports, service to others, self-care, and other obligations. For example, if you have a full week, and you would like to offer your help, figure out on your schedule where you can do that: “On Tuesday I have a gap in my schedule for a few hours to do someone else’s laundry, or babysit or help with Harvey clean-up.”
Once you have worked your way through these five steps, you will feel more balanced, less stressed, and feeling less shame. You will become far more effective as a helper and accomplish so much more than you would have otherwise done.
We won’t let you break us down.. #Texasstrong