By Zahra Juma, Head of Psychosocial Services SEPAR International.
Whether you are a humanitarian, first responder or volunteer helping with the ongoing crisis in Turkey and Syria, you have probably witnessed a lot of ongoing suffering from the families that have lost loved ones, pets and their homes due to the devastating earthquake.
In an emergency situation such as this, you may feel propelled to push on and help as many individuals or families as possible. The idea of rest or taking a break may even be daunting.
Caring for yourself may be the last thing on your mind because things need to get done.
However, as a frontline responder, you are only as effective if you are physically and psychologically healthy.
Therefore, here are five reminders for you as you continue taking care of the families and individuals.
1. Feeling emotionally distressed or numb is a normal reaction: As your body and brain focus on making sense of the ongoing tragedy, you might experience a range of stress reactions. These may include difficulties concentrating, lack of sleep, difficulties managing emotions, or changes in appetite to name a few. What you are experiencing are normal reactions to an abnormal event such as an earthquake and usually, these indicators of stress will reduce once you are out of the stressful situation. However, if the indicators persist after you’re no longer in danger, it may be helpful to seek professional advice.
2. Take care of your physical body: the idea of sleep or eating may not be the last thing on your mind right now. However, with the cold weather and the intense physical and psychological labour involved with rescue efforts, it is difficult to be helpful if you are too tired. You might not get 6-8 hours of sleep or have 3-course meals however getting some naps, healthy snacks or meals may help give you the strength you need to power on.
3. Conduct daily debriefs: Setting aside time to debrief can give you and your team members a chance to share success stories, meet needs, and request additional support or resources needed to make your work smoother. In addition, debriefing can also provide structure to your role which can help reduce feelings of confusion in an already unpredictable situation.
4. Create a contact tree: Identify 1-2 people with whom you can do regular check-ins and monitor each other’s emotional states throughout the day. With a lot of your focus going into monitoring the external environment, it may be difficult to notice internal changes in yourself such as tiredness or irritability.
5. Call home and speak to loved ones if you can: There are plenty of research studies that highlight the importance of social support systems in fostering resilience during stressful periods. You might not be willing to have conversations about what you’ve seen and that’s okay. You can talk about anything else like what’s something exciting your loved one has done that day or what you’re looking forward to most when you see them.
Aftercare Once you return home, it is important to take some time to recover especially if you have been affected by what you’ve seen.
You might find yourself tempted to ignore prolonged symptoms of traumatic stress due to concerns about how you may be perceived.
Remember, everyone deals with stress differently and we all have different emotional bandwidths. If you would like to seek specialized and confidential support on how to recover from traumatic stress and improve your resilience, please contact us today.