Commentary: Taking Care of Yourself When Your Job Involves Taking Care of Others

Editor’s Note: This commentary originally appeared in the December 2020 Frontline Supervisor Newsletter published by the Washington State Employee Assistance Program. Cindy Guertin-Anderson, assistant director for workforce support and development shares she personal experience about how easy it can be to neglect taking care of yourself during emergencies like this pandemic.

Message from Cindy Guertin-Anderson, Asst. Director, Workforce Support and Development

Hello leaders! Over the last pandemic-burdened months, the EAP has provided you with encouragement and advice on how to take care of the employees you serve. Certainly, that’s critical. But here’s the other critical thing that you might be ignoring as outside pressures mount: Are YOU okay? When the EAP recently sent out an invitation for post-election support, a friend at another agency forwarded the email to me with the simple question: “But who supports the supporters? Hope you are hanging in there!” I answered jokingly to send an emergency supply of chocolate…but it’s a serious question, and I’m passing along that helpful question to you: Who or what is sustaining you? Are you, managers and HR professionals in your role as supporters, getting your own needs met?

At a recent state HR managers’ meeting, a participant raised the topic of compassion fatigue. And a litany of responses came into the chat—offers reaching out to chat 1:1, talk of creating a support group to process and debrief together with folks who understand what it’s like to be in their positions, desire for a space to refuel and connect together on their humanity. I’ve heard several people say that during team check-ins everyone else says they are doing just fine, “so I say I’m fine too…even though I’m not.” I’m in meetings with leaders who seem to be holding it all together perfectly well, but then I see a glimpse of their exhaustion, their despair. I see many of you—managers, leaders, human resource professionals—both going beyond the call of duty to lead in an ongoing crisis, but also beleaguered. Resilient yes, yet in some moments exhausted and with little or nothing left to give. I believe both can be true at the same time.

I received a letter from my doctor’s office reminding me that I was past due for my annual checkup. And it occurred to me that somehow amidst a pandemic that’s forcing us not to be out socializing, I had also neglected to go to the dentist (despite a minor toothache), neglected to get my eyes checked (despite the fact that I can no longer make out subtitles on my TV screen), and even neglected to keep up with my yoga practice at home (despite that year I spent in yoga teacher training). While I was busy creating wellness messages for the state workforce and trying to lead from a place of compassion, I wasn’t walking the talk. And so a few weeks later I found myself sitting in my doctor’s office for a wellness check. Her simple question, “How’s it going?” brought an unexpected cascade of tears. In other spaces I’ve been responding to that question with my standard, “Pretty well, all things considered,” but somehow in that moment I let my defenses down and I crumpled. I was not okay. I felt lonely and weary. She listened with kindness, told me what I was feeling was normal and expected, and recommended that I do something about it. What she recommended were obvious things, the things I preach but haven’t practiced. I found a counselor. I reached out to a colleague to talk. I made those neglected appointments.

My hunch is that many of you reading this are in a similar situation. You may be working overtime making sure your agency mission is achieved, while neglecting even the most basic of self-care. It’s not that you don’t know what you need to do to care for yourself; it’s just that it can feel overwhelming or exhausting to muster the energy to do it. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky in her 2018 book The Age of Overwhelm, says “Let us aspire to not allow overwhelm in the midst of suffering to leave us feeling powerless. There is always something we can do….It is never too late to start a new practice, merging the reality of insight about who you are—with an understanding of all you’ve got going on—with awareness of the choices you can make to help you sustain for the long haul. Do something. Every day.”

If you resonate with some of what I’ve shared so far, here’s a nudge for a few concrete actions you can take to combat compassion fatigue (either spend 15 minutes now, or find a 15 minute timeslot on your calendar this week and make an appointment to do the following):

  1. Think of a peer or colleague who might be in a similar hard spot right now, maybe someone at a different agency, and send them an email asking how they are managing these days. Invite them to meet for a virtual coffee break to chat. The person you reach out to probably needs connection just as much as you do.
  2. Grab a scrap of paper and jot down 3 things you did well in the past week, no matter how trivial. Read it aloud. Notice what happens to your mind and body when you acknowledge successes.
  3. Send a note of gratitude to someone—it can be the briefest of emails or a Skype chat—just to say “I was thinking of you and wanted to tell you that I’m glad you are in my life” or “Thanks for all you do – I feel lucky to work with you.”

And if no one has said it to you recently, I’ll end with this. Thank you for all you have done to support employees in the past 9 months. You are doing a great job. You need and deserve support too. What choice will you make today to sustain for the long haul?

PS: If you missed the October State HR Lunch and Learn on Workplace Resilience featuring Dr. Kira Mauseth from the WA DOH Behavioral Health Strike Team, give it listen. It’s well worth the hour.

Resource: Webinar: How to Build Resilience When Your Job Involves Helping Others in Crisis The EAP has an upcoming webinar from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday Dec. 7. You can register here or visit the EAP website for on-demand recordings of this webinar topic.

Post-Election Support Resource Guide

drawing of US capitol
Image from Pixabay.com

This week, the Washington State Employee Assistance program is offering a special series of live post-election support sessions. One per day on weekdays starting the day after Election Day through Monday, November 9. The EAP is also offering several webinars on keeping up on your mental health and wellbeing. Below are the details from the director of the Employee Assistance Program:

A message from Darrow Brown, Director of the Employee Assistance Program:

In the midst of a pandemic, civil unrest, racial discord and household financial insecurity, we have now arrived at Election Day 2020 – a day that has certainly heightened the stress, worry and anxiety for many.  To support you and your employees, the Washington State Employee Assistance Program offers the attached resource guide.  Note, the list is not an exhaustive one, but should help to provide you and your employees support and a way forward during the coming days.  Please be sure to send the guide to your employees.

Post Election Support Sessions

In the guide, you’ll see that the EAP is offering live, supportive post-election sessions starting Wednesday 11/4.  At present, there will be one session per day on Wednesday 11/4, Thursday 11/5, Friday 11/6 and Monday 11/9.  We will assess the schedule and frequency, based on requests and feedback in the coming days.  To see a list of dates and times and to register, you and your employees can visit our Webinars page.  We here at the EAP understand the potentially precarious and emotionally-charged nature of these sessions.  The intention is to provide a guided, facilitated and supportive response that attends to employees’ emotional and behavioral needs. The underlying EAP approach is to “do no harm”, including not inviting and/or allowing discussions of a political nature.

Thank you for the continued support of The Washington State Employee Assistance Program and for your dedication to employee wellness.

EAP Webinars on Mental Health and Wellbeing during COVID Schedule for Sept/Oct

EAP is offering webinars on a variety of COVID-19 related topics to support emotional and mental health and wellbeing. Register for an upcoming live session or view a pre-recorded session on-demand below. More sessions will be added regularly.

EAP also has a website with links by topic to helpful resources from addiction to finances to parenting to support for marginalized communities.

(New) Leading the Human Side of Change

From the Washington State Employee Assistance Program:

Leading the Human Side of Change

We are currently experiencing a rapid transformation of the workplace. As a leader, you may find yourself struggling with how to navigate and lead your team through the challenges that can come with change. In this webinar you’ll learn about the human side of change, how change impacts you as a leader and your work group, strategies to support your team through change, and what resources are available to support both you and your employees.

  • Wednesday, October 28, 2020  2:00pm-3:30pm  Register

Navigating Change in Challenging Times

In our ever changing world, learning how to navigate change is an essential skill—one that can be developed. In this webinar we’ll talk about the impact of change, actions you can take to navigate change based on your unique response to stress, and resources available to support you.

  • Wednesday, September 23, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register
  • Thursday, October 1, 2020  1:00pm-2:30pm  Register
  • Thursday, October 22, 2020 2:00pm-3:30pm  Register

How to Build Resilience When Your Job Involves Helping Others in Crisis

This webinar is intended for those who are supporting others in crisis e.g. customers, clients, students, employees/staff. During this webinar you will learn how your mind and body responds to stress, possible impacts on your emotional and physical well-being, strategies to build resilience, and supports and resources available to you.

  • Thursday, September 24, 2020  2:00pm-3:30pm  Register
  • Wednesday, September 30, 2020  10:00am-11:30am  Register
  • Tuesday, October 6, 2020 10:30am-12:00pm  Register

For more resources and to view a list of recorded webinars, visit https://des.wa.gov/services/hr-finance/washington-state-employee-assistance-program-eap

Back to School: How to support employees who have school age kids at home

Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in the Employee Assistance Program’s September 2020 Newsletter

As we head into month 6 of the COVID pandemic, many parents are starting the school year already worn out, after months of “go go go” from the time the kids wake up at 6am until their bedtime at 9pm (and sometimes the kids are up in the middle of the night too.) They’re likely wondering how they and their families will manage, and they’re not alone. Recent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation warns that nearly half of all parents of school age kids are worried that they will not be able to pay enough attention to their child if they are working from home. In addition, more than half of all parents of K-12 kids experienced one or more adverse health effects due to worry and stress from COVID, with 69% of mothers and 51% of fathers.

How can you support your employees through this time?

  1. Be kind, caring and flexible. The State Human Resources division counsels agencies to operate with principles such as: maximum flexibility, action not perfection (“Try something. Take a risk and you can make adjustments if it doesn’t work.”) and strong support for “accommodating parents and other caregivers to make it possible for them to remain in the workforce and thrive…” See Supporting Working Parents and Caregivers, part of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) HR Guidance for State Agencies.
  2. Provide maximum flexibility for employees to get their work done. Given each employee’s unique situation, ask when they can work. It can be a patchwork quilt, such as working: before the kids are up, after they’re in bed, on weekends, and when their partner is “on duty.” The new State HR guidance describes these and other possible work schedule options to accommodate the employee’s caregiving responsibilities.
  3. Be proactive – check in with your employees who are parenting school age kids about their back-to-school plans. While asking all school-age parents is important, pay special attention to mothers, given research showing that they are bearing the brunt of juggling home schooling and working and report suffering more adverse health effects than fathers. During these tough economic times or due to past negative experience, employees may be reluctant to expose anything they fear their supervisor or HR may see as a failure to perform their work. Don’t wait until your employees approach you to seek help or relief – they may wait too long.
  4. Check in regularly with your employees to see how they’re doing, and reassure them that you are open to adjusting and adapting as their family’s needs change.
  5. Encourage your employees to use their leave and take regular time off from work. During this stressful time, taking some time away from work is vital to your employees’ and their families’ continued wellbeing. In addition to vacation and sick time your employees may qualify for other leave categories, including the 2020 federal COVID-related leave – here’s the description of federal COVID-related leave. For information specific to your organization talk with your HR staff.
  6. Urge your employees to make their self-care a priority. Here is some specific self-care information and guidance tailored to parents. In addition, the EAP offers both a Self-Care webinar and a Parenting through COVID webinar as well as other resources that can help on their COVID-19 Resources page.

Here are some additional resources to help you be a better leader during this time:

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to the EAP for support, guidance, tools and resources to help with your specific situation, at 1-877-313-4455 or online.

EAP Self-Care and Resilience Building Webinars Schedule for August and September 2020

home office

The Washington State Employee Assistance Program, EAP, is offering webinars on a variety of COVID-19 related topics to support emotional and mental health and wellbeing. Register for an upcoming live session or view a pre-recorded session on-demand below. More sessions will be added regularly.

EAP also has a website with links by topic to helpful resources from addiction to finances to parenting to support for marginalized communities.

Navigating Change in Challenging Times

In our ever changing world, learning how to navigate change is an essential skill—one that can be developed. In this webinar we’ll talk about the impact of change, actions you can take to navigate change based on your unique response to stress, and resources available to support you.

  • Thursday, August 20, 2020  9:30am-11:00am  Register
  • Thursday, August 27, 2020  1:00pm-2:30pm  Register
  • Wednesday, September 23, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register
  • Thursday, October 1, 2020  1:00pm-2:30pm  Register

Navigating Change Handouts:

Self Care with the WA State EAP

This webinar addresses the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and offers ideas for self-care and strategies for managing stress and fear.

  • Tuesday, August 25, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register
  • Thursday, September 17, 2020   2:00pm-3:30pm Register

How to Build Resilience When Your Job Involves Helping Others in Crisis

This webinar is intended for those who are supporting others in crisis e.g. customers, clients, students, employees/staff. During this webinar you will learn how your mind and body responds to stress, possible impacts on your emotional and physical well-being, strategies to build resilience, and supports and resources available to you.

  • Tuesday, August 18, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register
  • Tuesday, September 15, 2020  8:30am-10:00am  Register
  • Thursday, September 24, 2020  2:00pm-3:30pm  Register
  • Wednesday, September 30, 2020  10:00am-11:30am  Register

Washington State Employee Assistance Program

Phone: (360) 407-9490 or toll-free at (877) 313-4455

Visit the EAP website.

State Employee Assistance Program Webinars for the Month of June 2020

home office

The Washington State Employee Assistance Program is offering webinars on a variety of COVID-19 related topics to support emotional and mental health and wellbeing. Register today for these upcoming live webinars:

*New* Couples: Managing Your Way through COVID-19 (live)

  • Thursday, June 4, 2020 4:00-4:30 pm – Register
  • Friday, June 12, 2020 3:30-4:00 pm – Register

Self Care with the WA State EAP (live)

  • Tuesday, June 2, 2020 8:30-10:00 am – Register
  • Wednesday, June 10, 2020 3:00-4:30 pm – Register
  • Monday, June 15, 2020 1:30-3:00 pm – Register

Washington: Coming Together to Learn, Support, & Connect (live)

  • Thursday, June 4, 2020 12:00-12:30 pm – Register
  • Thursday, June 11, 2020 12:00-12:30 pm – Register
  • Thursday, June 18, 2020 12:00-12:30 pm – Register

How to Build Resilience When Your Job Involves Helping Others in Crisis (live)

  • Monday, June 1, 2020 3:00-4:30 pm   – Register
  • Monday, June 8, 2020 8:30-10:00 am – Register
  • Thursday, June 18, 2020 9:30-11:00 am – Register
  • Thursday, June 25, 2020 3:00-4:30 pm – Register
EAP also has a website with links by topic to helpful resources from addiction to finances to parenting to support for marginalized communities.

Cancelled by COVID 19: Managing Disappointment

cat making frowny face
You may have made this face a few times in the past few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled many concerts, meeting and family gatherings for many. The EAP offers some tips on handling disappointment.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the May 2020 Washington State Employee Assistance Program Newsletter

In addition to fear and anxiety, COVID-19 is causing many to struggle with feelings of disappointment. Whether it is a cancelled celebration or a postponed vacation, If not managed in a healthy way, disappointment can lead to lingering feelings of sadness and even depression. Here are four positive steps to help work through feelings of disappointment.

1) Give yourself permission to be disappointed. Adults are often so uncomfortable with negative emotions that there is a tendency to try to rush past them. However, if you allow yourself to experience the disappointment, as well as any other feelings you’re experiencing such as sadness and anger, you stand a better chance of being able to process your feelings in a healthy way. Genuinely experiencing emotions, no matter how painful, is part of the human experience. As you learn how to move through negative emotions rather than circumventing them, you help strengthen your personal resilience.

2) Find support. There is an old Yiddish saying, “Man plans, and God laughs.” As you know, the unexpected can suddenly pull the rug out from under cherished plans. Maybe you also know that when you share your disappointment with someone you trust, you will find support. Talking about disappointment can help release some of its fuel. In addition, the person you share with can offer comfort and may help you gain additional perspective.

3) Identify what you value. Disappointment reveals what really matters. If you are dejected because your child’s graduation ceremony was cancelled due to coronavirus, what does that reveal about what you care about? Is it a reflection of how proud you are of them or how eager you were to celebrate their achievement? Or, did you view their graduation as your graduation as well? Digging deeper and understanding what is at the root of your disappointment can be a very healthy exercise. From there you can move on to other ways to honor what you value.

4) Channel your disappointment. Once you uncover what you value, you can channel the energy of your disappointment to positive actions honoring that value. For the cancelled graduation, as an example, perhaps that means offering to spearhead a virtual graduation ceremony or creating a video with personal messages of congratulations.

While you do not have the power to change things outside of your control, you are able to control how you respond. If you are dealing with a COVID-19 related disappointment, know that you are not alone and, there is the possibility of understanding, learning from and growing through disappointment. If you’d like support to dig deeper and better understand your feelings, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to the EAP for support, at 877-313-4455

Tips to Keep the Holidays Stress Free

holiday-stress

Editor’s Note: this article first appeared on the Washington State Department of Corrections’ intranet.

The holidays are in full swing. That means extra guests, menu planning, events and managing budgets. Here are some tips on how to manage stress during the festivities.

Tips for Dealing With Holiday Stress 

  • Make Your Well Being a Priority If you don’t take care of yourself no one else will. And if you wish to care for others remember, just like on an airplane, be sure to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.                                   
  • Identify Your Stressors We all have particular family members or events that press our buttons, it is important that you know what they are. Identifying the problem is the first step to solving one.                                                                                   
  • Plan Proactively Now that you’ve identified your stressors, how can you handle those situations differently? How can you change your attitude toward those people and events to make things tolerable and even meaningful to you?                                   
  • Get Adequate Rest Put down the phone and tablet 30 minutes before you go to bed. Create a schedule that allows for the sleep you need and stick to it. The Walking Dead isn’t just a TV show.                                                                                                            
  • Maintain Healthy Eating Habits Don’t eat your feelings. Fuel your body, live your life and reflect on your feelings. Practice portion control and eat and drink in moderation. Experiment with mindful eating, using the senses in each bite and slowly savoring the flavors and moment.                                                                                
  • Maintain Healthy Exercise Habits Was there ever a better time to begin practicing some healthy stress management? Exercise can help you manage a stressful situation, give you a sense of accomplishment, and give you a pleasant endorphin rush! Remember that exercise comes in many forms, going to the gym, running, walking, actively playing with your pets or kids, dancing, climbing walls, video workouts of all sorts…Anything that gets your blood pumping.                                         
  • Practice Gratitude The holidays are a great time to reflect on the blessings in your lives. Try thinking about a time in the last month when you had a genuine moment of connection with another person, an animal or in nature. Reflect on that experience. What in this experience are you grateful for?                                                   
  • Connect Meaningfully with Others Use the holidays as an opportunity to intentionally spend time with people you care about. The holidays also present several opportunities to volunteer in your community both formally and informally.                                                                                                                                      
  • Have a Sense of Humor It won’t all be perfect, but at least we can laugh about it! Laughter can help you manage the stress and put that stress into the perspective it deserves.  

 Resources

The Department of Enterprise Services offers an  Employee Assistance Program for state workers at: https://des.wa.gov/services/hr-finance/washington-state-employee-assistance-program-eap (877) 313-4455

You can also get help for yourself or a loved one by calling the National Suicide Prevention hotline: (800) 273-8255

 

 

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Editor’s note: The Washington State Department of Enterprise Services‘ Employee Assistance Program publishes a monthly Frontline newsletter that’s full of tips for maintaining a healthy work life balance and tips to succeed in the workplace. It’s available to all state employees. You can read this month’s newsletter here, as well as sign up to receive the monthly newsletter. Below is one of this month’s articles:

sleep

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep:

Set a schedule: Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Disrupting this schedule may lead to insomnia. “Sleeping in” on weekends also makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it resets your sleep cycles for a later awakening.

Exercise: Try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise often helps people sleep, although a workout soon before bedtime may interfere with sleep. For maximum benefit, try to get your exercise about 5 to 6 hours before going to bed.

Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol: Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, which acts as a stimulant and keeps people awake. Sources of caffeine include coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, diet drugs, and some pain relievers. Smokers tend to sleep very lightly and often wake up in the early morning due to nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol robs people of deep sleep and REM sleep and keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep.

Relax before bed: A warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine can make it easier to fall sleep. You can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them part of your bedtime ritual. Sleep until sunlight: If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.

Don’t lie in bed awake: If you can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Do something else, like reading, watching television, or listening to music, until you feel tired. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.

Control your room temperature: Maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom. Extreme temperatures may disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.

See a doctor if the sleeping problem continues: If you have trouble falling asleep night after night, or if you always feel tired the next day, then you may have a sleep disorder and should see a physician. Your primary care physician may be able to help you; if not, you can probably find a sleep specialist at a major hospital.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)