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Tips for leaders to help support employees managing physical, mental and emotional health during and after a stressful event. Uploaded 03.21.20

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Response Resources for Leaders

During stressful events, employees rely on leaders to make decisions and provide support. Please remember that sudden, stressful, traumatic events make us forget that we are competent and in control. We may not have had control over the event, but we do have control over our collective response.

Effective leaders understand how stress affects their staff. Common reactions to stressful events fall into physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual categories:

  • Feelings of stress, grief, fear, guilt or anger.
  • Difficulty completing routine activities or a lack of interest in enjoyable activities.
  • Sleep disturbances, often including nightmares and thoughts about the event.
  • Changes in appetite, tiredness, headaches, and stomachaches.
  • Needing to talk, often repeatedly, about the event(s) and feelings associated with the event(s).
  • A sense of meaninglessness; e.g., asking, “What’s the point?”
  • Working below capacity.

These are normal reactions to an abnormal event, and for most people, they are time-limited. Research demonstrates that the vast majority of people are resilient following a crisis. We are stronger that we give ourselves credit for.

Be Aware of You:

  • First, stop and take time to understand your own reactions.
  • Take a moment to decide how you are going to take care of yourself later.
  • Be mindful and intentional of your own expression and tone. Your team will take their cues from you.
  • Leaders are often the face of the response. Resist any desire to isolate.
  • Practice what we preach and engage in healthy self-care.

How to Support Coping:

  • Knowing there is not right way to react and recover.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to talk about their stressful experiences.
  • Acknowledge and encourage teamwork and cooperation.
  • Take steps to reduce any additional stressors.
  • Provide as much information as possible and continue to update.
  • Express empathy and listen carefully.
  • Utilize Duke’s wellness resources like Live for Life (link to: https://hr.duke.edu/wellness/live-life) and the Pastoral Services (link to: https://www.dukehealth.org/support-services/pastoral-services).
  • Increase your visibility.
  • Acknowledge the value of professional counseling and encourage your employees to get whatever help they need.

Tips for compassionate communication.

  • Show Respect: Respectful communication is particularly important when people feel vulnerable.
  • Express empathy by acknowledging the emotions of those who are suffering.
  • Listen and allow emotional expressions or crying without interruption.
  • Do not answer questions outside of your expertise. Refer people to appropriate experts.
  • Be aware of potential re-traumatizing events.

Encourage employees to use self-care. Specific self-care tips include:

  • Buy some flowers.
  • Sit outside and listen to the birds.
  • Cook a favorite meal.
  • Scroll through pictures on your phone.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Light a scented candle.
  • Take a bubble bath.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Read a good book or listen to music.

Warning signs

  • Constant feelings of sadness or anxiety that prevent the completion of regular tasks.
  • Constant fixation on the event and an inability to focus.
  • Misuse of drugs or alcohol.
  • Inadvertent or flagrant disregard for safety.
  • Marked change in mood.
  • Statements that suggest potential self-harm.

Please contact PAS at 919-416-1727 if you see any of these behaviors in staff or colleagues.