If you live in Australia or watch the news anywhere around the world, you will know that the start to 2020 has been rather eventful for us Australians.
This has not been my first critical fire experience, having lived through evacuations with a toddler in the early 2000’s and being cut off from my family. I remember living with terrible anxiety, while packing and repacking the car, obsessing of the news, waiting for “the sign” to tell me what to do.
It took me a lot of years to be able to smell bush smoke and not go into a state of panic. I would become irritable, I would feel like crying, I would start rushing, everything would become urgent. I would be unable to tolerate any change to routine or anything or person who interrupted me while I was doing a task. In short, I was experiencing an appropriate reaction to an unusual circumstance. That being experiencing anxiety to feeling personally threatened.
As we deal with the aftermath of the fires, and while some of them still burn, it is important that we understand that many people cannot simply leave their emotional responses at the door when they come to work. There are many people who can be quite removed, detached and stoic about natural disasters who will simply get on with it. Then there are people, like me, and maybe like you, who find getting on with it extremely difficult.
After spending nearly a month obsessing over the Fires Near Me App, watching disaster stories flood social media; reading and hearing the unhelpful blaming statements, many of us have been living with a heightened state of anxiety and quite possibly with some hyper vigilance. This anxiety and hyper vigilance is appropriate during a crisis. It is a behaviour designed to help us prepare to take action to protect ourselves. However, after living with this for a protracted period of time, for some people it’s hard to turn off
For others we are left with something akin to survivors’ guilt, because we didn’t lose our house in a fire, yet we feel so bad, but we feel guilty for feeling bad because we weren’t directly affected by a fire.
Business owners, leaders and managers now is the time we can step up and practice RUOK Day with our people. More than asking the question, spend some time thinking about who in your team might be acting differently, who might have had family or friends effect, who do you know feels the pain of others deeply? These are the people we want to get around and let them know we want to support them.
While our employers, leaders, supervisors have a level of responsibility for the care of their people, we as individuals have a responsibility to be aware of how we are turning up for us, and there are specific things we can do to help ourselves.
Here are 5 things we can all do to help us make the transition back to work during this time of natural disaster:
- Don’t expect yourself to be 100% productive 100% of time for the next couple of weeks.
- It’s likely you will be distracted, or simply faze out in the middle of a task.
- You can help yourself by taking shorter more frequent breaks away from cognitively demanding tasks
- Limit the amount of task switching you are engaging it, focus n 1 thing at a time.
- Be mindful that you might feel cognitively fatigued and learn how you can manage yourself in this sate
- Turn off sound alerts on your devices.
- I have my phone on silent, my phone is not the boss of me. The sound alerts distract me all the time. When I am at work, I need to be on at work, I don’t need sound alerts going off all the time.
- Please understand that if you are living and working in an area where there is still a threat then you would not turn off your sound alert for the Fire Near Me App.
- Turn off the radio, or TV and social media commentary in the office while you are focused on other tasks.
- I doubt we need constant images of burning animals and exhausted firefighters the front of our faces while we are in the workplace. Give your emotions a rest from m these distressing images.
- Recognize when it is getting too much.
- If you find yourself becoming tearful for no apparent reason, or angry and irritable. Maybe you are intolerant of people around you and this is causing you unpleasantness in the workplace, then please reach out to the services listed below and talk to someone about what is going on for you.
- Please do not think you are going mad or that there is something terribly wrong with you if you feel like this. No, you are having a reaction to an unusual and unpredictable situation.
- Engage with others
- One of the healthiest things about work is its ability to help us engage with other people. Therefore, being at work will help your overall wellbeing during this time of recovery.
- At work, talk to others about their fire safety plans. Having a plan for myself and my family has made a HUGE difference to my ability to cope with this recent fire crises. Help each other come up with a plan. What will you pack, and how will you know when it’s time to leave? Maybe hold each other accountable to get your insurance policies up to date and find all that information that we hope we never need.
- As a collective decide who and how you want to help with the recovery efforts. This action has again been incredibly helpful to me managing my mental health during this crisis. I’ve donated money that has purchased water and food for firefighters in my local community; I’ve helped source tradespeople to fix plumbing at a RFS station; I’ve contributed to events that are supporting Koala hospitals… all of these small activities allow me to be a part of something positive, something useful and something meaningful.
Natural disasters are unexpected. They are not something we are 100% prepared for. That is why it is referred to as a crisis. And during a crisis, things are messy.
There are a couple of great resources I found in preparing this article and I strongly urge you to take a look.
If you are an employer, a leader, a Rehabilitation Coordinator or HR professional and would like some assistance in developing a way to help support your people while they are at work as we recover from this emergency, then please reach out to me here at Purple Co and we will put a plan into place together.
Here’s to making work, work well.