By Lisa Orloff, Founder of World Cares Center
Just as people affected by disasters need emotional support, so do the volunteers, workers, and authorities who respond to disasters and tragic events. Working under stressful conditions during disaster response can lead to injury and illness. It is therefore imperative that volunteers be prepared for the emotional challenges they will face during disaster response.
What is Resiliency?
The dictionary defines resilience as the “capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” In practice, when responding to a disaster as a volunteer, worker, or emergency personnel, you are exposed to occupational challenges. Therefore, just as we use gloves to protect our hands and goggles to protect our eyes, during disaster response, there are certain techniques that serve as emotional protection as well. Resiliency and understanding this kind of stress will help minimize the impact of traumatic events.
Here are some steps you can take to gain emotional resiliency and preparedness when responding to disasters:
- Acknowledge that the work you’re doing exposes you to situations that can trigger a trauma reaction. Don’t get me wrong, this kind of work is extremely rewarding, but there are challenges that certainly should not be ignored. For those who work with survivors of something like a house fire, or a hurricane, their experiences can also have a negative effect on your own emotional wellbeing. These effects are sometimes referred to as “vicarious trauma” or “compassion fatigue.”
- Understand what kind of exposure can result in a traumatic reaction and assess your personal stress inventory. It is important to know that it is normal to have a reaction to an abnormal event, and everyone reacts to this kind of stress differently. Are you sensitive to hearing stories about death, or destruction? Knowing where your sensitivities lie is an important step to understanding your own personal resilience.
- And finally, take an inventory of what to avoid and what is most important to you. It helps to write these things down in a journal or someplace to which you can refer back. This will be helpful when you find yourself in a stressful situation or environment. Remember, resiliency is a journey!
What are the ways in which you practice emotional resiliency as a disaster response volunteer? Share your tips in the comments section below.
World Cares Center’s mission is to empower communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters through training, support, and coordination. To learn more about trainings and other events please visit the World Cares Center’s website.