Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
The work of supporting children and families is already incredibly difficult. Long hours, little resources, listening to stories about trauma, and having to make difficult decisions can all add up to feelings of burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Iowa ACEs 360 has partnered with Chris Foreman (pictured here), a trainer, consultant and member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, to support supervisors in this time of crisis. Her training explains these tensions we and our staff may be wrestling with during this time:
Same job, different location but this is not business as usual
Underneath our daily work is the grief we are experiencing of what we’ve lost and what we may lose in the months ahead. Many are experiencing the real and significant loss of a loved one. Most of us are experiencing the cumulative loss of trips, milestones, and opportunities. These feelings of grief may show up in reactions such as bargaining, denial, or anger, and often these feelings are irrational and go unrecognized.
We got this vs. I can’t do this any more
The strategies we once had to cope with stress are now unavailable or are less satisfying than they once were. Even reading a book can be challenging. With our body’s alarm system fully engaged in response to the stress and uncertainty we’re facing, we may struggle to process good news and to focus on the task at hand.
I put the families I serve at risk or I put my family at risk
The impossible choice between working remotely to help keep our loved ones safe and the knowledge that families we serve benefit most when we meet with them in-person is not only stressful, but it also can be a source of moral stress. We are made to feel as though we have a forced choice between being a “good” parent or loved one and being a “good” provider or clinician. Added to this tension is the reality that virtual work isn’t always an option and that you must work to meet your family's financial needs. All of these factors combined can put us in a lose-lose situation.
I’m never doing enough vs. I’m so tired, I never stop doing.
Beyond our jobs, we are having to play multiple roles: parent or caregiver, teacher, entertainer, coach, pediatrician, mental health provider, and more. We may be making up work hours in the night when everyone goes to bed and we never fully feel separated from our job as it seeps into our personal space.
These are all significant tensions that we cannot let go of.
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.
This quote from Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, talks about the need to reinforce ourselves through these challenging times. Chris Foreman’s trainings tell us that instead of expecting to not be impacted by trauma, we need to prepare and reinforce ourselves with swim lessons, life rafts, better boats, and rain boots.
Critical to laying a stronger foundation to weather the storms are building connections and compassion satisfaction within the workplace. Supervisors can work on two main areas:
1. Building connection
Set aside time for talking about things other than work, validating struggles, and celebrating successes. Supervisors can foster this by identifying times and places for talking about coping strategies; by modeling, labeling, and praising how work is done, not just what gets done; and creating spaces for people to give and receive.
2. Seeking compassion satisfaction
While you cannot control having to cut jobs or be able to fully protect your staff, you can identify ways to support each other; show vulnerability, compassion, and self-acceptance; engage in problem solving; devote time to well-being; and re-frame you and your team’s thinking to focus on what we can do. All of these strategies work to build compassion satisfaction when we are faced with difficult no-win situations.
A few strategies to boost connection and compassion satisfaction include:
Organizations can provide a supportive environment during this time by: