by Roxanna Maiberger
Hurricane Harvey’s impact has been catastrophic; historic rainfall has resulted in mass flooding and destruction. (1) Thousands have been displaced from their homes and forced to seek the services of emergency relief providers, including those of health care professionals. Throughout Texas and the nation, images of suffering and despair have evoked feelings of helplessness, guilt, and a sense of being called to action for those watching.
Many health care professionals have been providing care under extraordinary measures to patients in need. It is critical for those providers to take proactive measures in self-care techniques in order to continue providing quality care to patients. This article outlines the concept of self-compassion and lists practical self-care techniques to encourage sustainability for emergency health care service providers.
Self-compassion is a concept researched by Kristin Neff, an associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin. (2) Her research on self-compassion consists of a three-pronged theory involving:
- Common humanity; and
Health care providers should take an active role in their own self-preservation and sustainability, in order to effectively care for others. Self-kindness is not synonymous with self-indulgence, self-pity, or self-esteem. Rather, it is a concept based on reducing isolation by increasing awareness of the suffering associated with situations that you and others around you may be facing. Positive self-talk is an important aspect of self-kindness.
Common humanity encompasses our collective human experience, and it interconnects the human race. During challenging times, all people face emotional states involving a range of traumatization, suffering, and stress. Acknowledging these various states of mind, as well as our common experience, allows communities to unite, move forward, and begin to heal. The concepts of self-compassion and common humanity provide a foundation for acknowledging and encouraging human connection, a critical aspect of quality patient care.
Mindfulness includes evaluating the reality of a situation and being aware of any associated emotional and physical impacts. Being mindful, or engaged with the present moment, can create a foundation for effectively navigating difficult situations.
The severity of the damage from Hurricane Harvey is still unfolding. It has been a life-changing event for many. It is important to remember that patients will be prone to mental health concerns (e.g. PTSD, shock, anxiety), physical health ailments, non-compliance with medication due to pharmacy closures, and more. These circumstances will remain an ongoing reality for patients affected by Hurricane Harvey. Maintaining compassionate care for both self and others contributes to patients receiving the care they need, and health care providers effectively engaging in emergency response efforts.
During these difficult times along the Texas coastline and the Houston metropolitan area, many health care providers are being pushed to their limits emotionally and physically. Some self-care tips to encourage sustainability include: (3)
- Acknowledge moments of suffering;
- Remain empathetic to yourself, as this fosters empathy with others; and
- Practice self-compassion as a means to promote quality health care.
Below are additional self-care tips, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that can be used during natural disaster emergency response events. (4)
- Know the signs of compassion fatigue and burnout;
- Develop a support network/use the buddy system;
- Debrief about experiences;
- Know that it is not selfish to say ‘no’;
- Take breaks and do not exceed working more than 12 consecutive hours;
- Have adequate water and food intake.
We appreciate the efforts of our policyholders in providing exceptional care to patients, especially during times of crisis. The well-being of our policyholders and Texas patients is of utmost importance to TMLT.
- Chokshi N, Astor M. Hurricane Harvey: The devastation and what comes next. The New York Times. August 28, 2017. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/us/hurricane-harvey-texas.html?mcubz=3. Accessed September 8, 2017.
- Neff K. Definition of self-compassion. Available at http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/. Accessed September 8, 2017.
- Neff K. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. William Morrow. 2011. Available in print.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emergency preparedness and response. April 15, 2016. Available at https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/responders.asp. Accessed September 8, 2017.
- For information on the symptoms of burnout, here is a helpful article http://www.compassionfatigue.org/pages/healthprogress.pdf.