Dr. Tara Powell's recent Zoom workshop on "Self-care, Preventing Burnout and Compassion Fatigue" struck a chord with over 1000 people in the university community, maxing out the potential registrants for a Zoom meeting. That's not surprising. During these strange times, many people are doubling down on efforts to check-in (virtually or in-person) on friends and family members who are struggling. As many people are finding, that can be hard to do when you are also struggling and when the difficulties affecting your nearest and dearest are also affecting you.
Fortunately, we have insight from experts like Powell (assistant professor of social work) who make it their careers to reach out and help members of their community in need — social workers, counselors, and other care-givers. Using her professional and academic experience as a social worker, Powell offers a few insider strategies for social workers and other individuals in the helping profession to reduce stress during the COVID19 outbreak. These tips are certainly useful, as many of us step into caregiver roles during the COVID19 pandemic, but they are applicable in our everyday lives as well.
Below, Tara's given us some take-aways from the webinar, but if you are looking for even more strategies and some activities to get started, the entire webinar is available to view online.
Your Feelings Are Normal
You may be experiencing emotional swings and feelings of stress during this time. These feelings are completely normal. The COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated and brought about new stressors in our lives including social isolation, stress around resources, concerns about childcare, relationships at home, fear of contracting the virus, and bereavement and loss. Your feelings about these stressors are normal reactions to an abnormal situation like the one we find ourselves in now.
Reaching out to care for your community either in your professional or personal lives can be a fulfilling and positive way to deal with some of these stressors, but with ongoing crises like COVID19, you may also run a higher risk of experiencing some negative emotional side effects as a result of your caregiving work. You may even experience these things if you are unable to provide the caregiving you normally would because of the social isolation caused by the current situation. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a social worker, a friend, or a family member, you may find yourself experiencing burnout, survivor's guilt, compassion fatigue, shared traumatic stress, or secondary traumatic stress.
Self-care is always important but is critical during this time when there is a lot of unknown, our lives have significantly changed, and we do not have the normal social interactions we are accustom to.
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Ideas for self-care:
- Practice deep and/or mindful breathing exercises when you are stressed. Taking a few slow deep breaths can increase oxygen to your brain and also reduce feelings of distress. When you slowly breathe in and out notice your surroundings—the sounds, sights, smells. This can help reduce ruminative thoughts and bring you to the present moment.
- Get out in nature. When you are feeling stressed go outside, take a walk, or run. This can help ease stress and reduce tension.
- Reach out to someone who can empathize with what you are going through. Having a support network is critical for self-care and can help you realize, “hey my reactions are pretty normal.”
- Practice self-compassion. Be kind and treat yourself with the same empathy you would treat a good friend. This can be through self-talk or through actions.
In closing, I want to leave you with this affirmation. I invite you to return to it whenever you need it.
This isn't easy. We are all experiencing this collective event. Some days will be better than others, but if I practice consistent self-care, I can help myself and others survive and even thrive now and in the future.
Dr. Tara Powell is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work. Her research and practice experience is in post-disaster behavioral-health working as both a school social worker and researcher in disaster-affected communities throughout the U.S. and abroad. Dr. Powell has also led multiple research projects focused on post-trauma recovery and evidence-based interventions, obtained organizational funding for her research, and has co-authored numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters.