The ABCs of Self-Care After Harvey
by Dawn Lawless, LCSW, LSOTP
Compassion Satisfaction is that emotional high we experience when we are serving in the name of Jesus. We start donation drives, muck and gut houses for our neighbors, serve at shelters, and feed our friends who have lost everything. This God-given adrenaline sustained energy feels good, and we want to keep going, but beware of the drop.
This is a marathon, not a sprint! As global response organizations like Somebody Cares, Mercy Meals, and Samaritan’s Purse enter our community, we know that the recovery phase of Hurricane Harvey will be extensive. This hurricane is like no other we’ve experienced, and with less than two weeks out from the hit, we are beginning to feel fatigue.
Compassion Fatigue is a normal response to disaster, and awareness of the symptoms can help build personal resilience; when Heavenly-focused, this tragedy can transform. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, you may be suffering from Compassion Fatigue:
- Irritability, judgemental attitudes, blaming of others, exhaustion (physical and mental), difficulty concentrating, tearfulness, denial of the problems, and/or a lack of empathy.
- Trouble sleeping, nightmares that involve play-backs of what you’ve witnessed, over-eating, increased use of drugs/alcohol to ease the stress, and/or isolation from loved ones.
Take heed. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. Psalm 145:9
Consider these ABCs of self-care as you move forward and continue to serve:
Assess your personal situation. Reflect on all that has happened over the past several days. Journaling your thoughts and feelings is a tangible way to process the trauma. Ponder questions about where you are emotionally. Are you experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms? Are you feeling overwhelmed at the abundance of need? Review your role in the response. What are your strengths and limitations? During a broad-scope tragedy, you’ll likely have waves of gratitude mixed with deep sadness. Understand this is normal. Simply identifying where you are emotionally, physically, and spiritually will give voice to your needs.
Boundary your time. There is no shame in setting personal limits. Even Jesus took time away to get filled up before continuing his ministry. Set specific pockets of time aside for personal self-care activities like praying, journaling, reading, exercising, and sharing with friends. Discuss how much time and money you and your family can afford to give to the outside needs of our community, and be confident that those limits will free you up to serve at your best. Boundaries give us filters to determine where and when we give so we don’t over-extend ourselves.
Call out for help. If you need support processing the tragedy you’ve witnessed, ask for help. Seeking Godly counsel is Biblical, undeniable, and available. Check with your employer to see if they have an Employee Assistance Plan available. These are free services to you, the consumer. There are also emerging support groups where you can process your experience. For most, short-term counseling (3-6 sessions) post-disaster is sufficient, and can help you as you talk through your stressors and learn healthy coping strategies. Regardless of your unique experience with Harvey, remember that God’s love is the foundation for all healing. He is right in the middle of this mess, and He knows your needs.