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    How to Support Health Care Coworkers During a Disaster

    Stephanie Hirons RN-BC, MS, LMHC 04/08/2020
    Most of us spend more time with coworkers than our actual families, so we have front-row seats for the good times and not-so-good times. This is particularly true during natural or manmade disasters. The weight of long shifts, extremely ill patients, and separation from normal routine can bring out an entire range of emotion. To help you and your coworkers make it through this challenging time, here are a few ways to provide support:
    1. Be helpful. If you notice someone needs a break, assistance with gathering supplies, or completing an admission, ask how you can help.  
    1. Listen. No one understands a hard shift like your coworkers who experienced it with you. Make time to listen to their thoughts and feelings about what happened so they don’t hold on to that emotion. Think of it as an informal debriefing or group therapy.
    1. Listen later. Be mindful of your own mental state before listening to coworkers vent about their feelings or experiences. It’s okay to say, “This conversation is making me feel anxious,” or “I don’t think I’m in a place to talk about this right now.” You can always go back and check on the other person when you have more emotional capacity.
    1. Focus on positive energy. Displaying positive energy is not the same as being happy. It is a conscious decision to address situations in a way that lifts up the team or effort. Constant complaining and negativity becomes a burden to your coworkers. Find a way to express how you feel without dragging your coworkers down.
    1. Respect each other: Understand that everyone deals with crises in different ways. Posting funny pictures, religiously checking the news or statistics, and expressing political beliefs are all appropriate ways of coping. Respect that your coworkers’ methods may differ from yours but are just as valid.
    1. Say thank you. Letting people know you value them and their work goes a long way toward reaching success. Make it a priority to tell people thank you and I appreciate you.  
    1. Give small gestures of appreciation. To go one-step beyond saying thank you, give your coworkers and team small tokens of appreciation like a kind note, $5 gift card, or a delivery of chips and salsa for your shift.  
    1. Hand out compliments. When someone does a good job, say so! Recognizing small and large accomplishments make people feel noticed and appreciated. 
    1. Check in: Many people are struggling with their mental health right now. It’s a normal reaction to stress and change. Be sure to check in with your coworkers and ask, “How are you holding up?” “How are your kids?” Make sure you really listen to the response. Checking in shows that you care and reminds people they are not alone.
    1. Look out for each other: In your own way, look out for your coworkers. That may include praying for their health and safety, sending good vibes and healing energy, or making sure they eat. Remember that we’re in this together and support is crucial to our success.
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