Learning to Cope

In 2009, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After the second surgery, complications forced doctors to put me in a medically induced coma for seven days.  Several months later coworkers, friends even Facebook ‘friends’ would ask, “How did I cope?”  Cope?  I was getting the best nap of my life thanks to Jackson Juice, my dad’s affectionate name for the large amounts of propofol given. The issue at hand was not how I coped but how did my family and friends cope watching and dealing with my care.

Caregivers, case workers, nurses, mental health practitioners, among others, deal with difficult cases and we tend to overlook the toll providing those direct services takes on individuals. They see and hear horrific stories. They work with individuals who are not capable or are not ready to make changes to improve their situations.  They may witness abuse and even death.

As government employees, we know direct client services are necessary.  They are a valuable part of service delivery.  But what do we as managers, as agencies and as directors do to make sure our case workers and managers are OK? They may even overlook the need for self-care and finding ways to leave others’ problems at the door.  They may need help decompressing from difficult cases. There is a lot we can do to help.

Every January, we vow to live better and make changes and mass publications provide guidance. Here are few ways we can help our front line staff cope:

  • Humor (or at a minimum distractions)
  • Over the last year, various articles have touted adult coloring books as a great stress reliever. January 2016 issue of Family Circle reports, “According to clinical psychologist Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. ‘Coloring inside the lines, the left brain stays busy, freeing up the right brain’s intuitive curiosity. That combined with the physical sensation of coloring helps people stay in the moment longer- a great way to reduce mind and body tension’. A $10 investment in coloring books, crayons (and even splurge for the big 64-count box) gives employees a distraction. Other options include a Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) search of ‘coloring pages’ gives hundreds of printable coloring pages.
  • Cat videos are popular for a reason! They make us laugh and we do not have to use too much effort to see why they are funny. While some government offices ban access to certain websites, even professional list serves such as Nonprofit Risk Management Center and Nonprofit Quarterly occasionally provide humor breaks for stressed out employees. Even without the internet, teams can provide some humor relief to stressed out team members if allowed to show their fun side.
  • Quiet time
  • Optimally we could provide a quiet room where a person can regroup. Unfortunately, many of us have taken to hiding in a bathroom stall to gain a few minutes of quiet to regain sanity. Lately it seems we need always be moving to seem like we are being productive. After a stressful event, sometimes a person needs to just sit and be with what she saw or handled. As part of its Four Week Reboot Plan, Good Housekeeping’s January 2016 issue suggests to Do (Nearly) Nothing… “sit in a cozy chair, away from work or household projects…for a few minutes several times a day, everyday. Notice the serenity of the moment, if unwelcome thoughts creep in, let them pass, then refocus on something tranquil in your line of sight. This…clears your mind and reduces anxiety”.
  • Meditation
  • This one is hard to implement in a workplace but encouraging employees to take five to 10 minutes to meditate on their own could produce stress-reducing results. There are plenty of examples on the web and in books telling how to do it. But much of that can be overwhelming. Better Homes and Garden’s January 2016 issue recommends for as little as five minutes. “You don’t have to be a Zen master to feel the rewards.” Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center explained in the article, “Start with 5 minutes, which is long enough to have an effect but short enough that you can squeeze it in”. The article offers a guided meditation at marc.ucla.edu or you can look into the Relax Melodies and Relax Meditations available on Google and Iphone.

Even if an employee only does one the effects reach overall to decrease stress and give employees a way to deal with difficult situations. They work for us too.

In a dream world, every office would come with kittens and puppies, free therapists or nap rooms. The reality is there are low cost and low interference tactics we can implement to provide relief to our front line staff.

Jennifer Dreibelbis

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Pam Boynes

This article made my day! I do all these things. Scrolling through the “I Can Haz Cheezburger” site while I eat my lunch keeps me laughing. Walking meditation during breaks is a great way to level out. I have a 25 minute train ride back and forth to work which is perfect for “quiet time” or meditation – I highly recommend the “Calm” ap for your phone, nice guided meditations as short as five minutes. Amazon has an amazing selection of coloring books, many under $5.00 but I do recommend splurging on the Prismacolor pencils if you can.