In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, one would expect to find our beloved city’s spirit completely broken. Day after day, the news is filled with stories of rescue efforts and neighbors helping neighbors. While the storm has certainly left Houston battered and shaken, it is somehow also bringing out the best in us. My social media feed is outpouring with friends sharing information on shelters that need volunteers and donations. While my heart aches for those affected by the hurricane, it swells with pride to see our city coming together to assist those in need. Houston will rebuild, and the incredible number of volunteers coming forward to help is the backbone of this effort.
While it’s important to help others during an emergency, it’s equally just as important for volunteers to take care of themselves. If you push yourself too hard, you may burn out – become ill, physically or emotionally exhausted, or depressed. As author Jennifer Jean says, “To burn-out is to let one’s light languish until it disappears. As interdependent beings, we are responsible for making sure our flame is fueled.” Taking care of yourself during a time of crisis is anything but selfish. In fact, it’s a very responsible thing to do, because it means you can remain effective in helping others.
Here’s a list of important things to remember when helping out in an emergency:
- Understand that nobody involved in an emergency or disaster is untouched by it. Sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions.
- You may not want to leave until the work is finished and may try to override your own fatigue with dedication and determination.
- You may deny your body’s need for food, rest, and recovery time.
- Emotions may be felt more fully or less fully than usual.
- You’ll often feel the pain of the victims and may experience this as secondary trauma – or “compassion fatigue.”
- Understand that you are not the only one who can help in this situation – you’re part of the team of caregivers.
If you start to feel stressed and overwhelmed, it’s important to heed the message your body is trying to tell you. Your flame is beginning to burn out, and if it does, its light will no longer reach the ones you’re trying to help. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! It’s totally OK to take a break, relax, and recharge.
Here are some tips on taking care of yourself when helping in an emergency:
- Don’t over-exert or over commit yourself.
- Get enough rest, exercise different muscles, and maintain a healthy diet.
- Avoid excessive junk food, caffeine or alcohol.
- Make sure you take time for yourself. Taking a short break, away from the crisis and stress, can help you maintain your physical and emotional energy.
- Practice self-awareness: learn to recognize and heed the warning signs of physical and emotional fatigue.
- Talk about how you are feeling with friends, family, and fellow volunteers during appropriate times.
- Try to avoid over-identifying with victims’ pain, grief, or struggles as it can hamper your effective helping skills.
- Look for the positive and set realistic goals for your volunteer time commitment.
- Rotate what you do, from frontline work to support jobs – it’ll ease physical and mental stress.
- Stay in touch with friends and family who are not involved in the crisis.
To burn-out is to let one’s light languish until it disappears. As interdependent beings, we are responsible for making sure our flame is fueled…and we’re meant to share that flame with others. In these times of darkness, let’s stay connected, let’s stay committed, let’s stay Houston Strong.