Keep calm and
carry on caring
This page is intended as a simple guide to how to help colleagues who are feeling overwhelmed or just need to offload in the stress of coping with the demands of the coronavirus crisis. It is not intended as a comprehensive manual or to replace guidance from professional therapists and counsellors, and professional advice should be sought to support colleagues in serious emotional distress or breakdown. There are five exercises you can use. You don't need to use all the exercises - just pick one that helps you and others around you.
1.Take A breath
The first step is to make sure that you, the helper, are in the right place to help others. The most important thing is to be present to your own anxieties and fears by feeling into your own body, particularly your belly. Anxiety is held in the body and by breathing deeply and slowly into your belly for a few minutes you will start to feel more present and more relaxed.
Exercise, 1 Breathe
Sit or stand as comfortably as you can. If your collar or belt constricts you loosen, them so you can breathe easily.
Put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth. This helps to quieten mental chatter.
Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose into your belly without forcing it.
Hold for a second or two, again without any discomfort.
Breath out through your mouth slightly slower than you breathed in, again without forcing it.
If it helps you to count whilst you are breathing, breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of 2 and breathe out for a count of 7.
Repeat this for 4 or 5 times or until you notice you are becoming calmer.
Talking about a stressful situation with a person who can really listen helps manage stress. If you can be a good listener you will help people more than anything else.
Exercise 2 - Deep Listening
If possible, find a quiet space where there are fewer distractions
Breathe deeply as you explored in exercise 1 and continue to breathe deeply into your belly for the whole time you are listening
Invite the person you are helping to tell you how they feel.
Listen to what they are saying and listen to the reason they are saying what they are saying.
Don't try to fix anything or make things better. Just listen.
Use body language, eye-contact and very few words to show that you are paying attention.
If the person gets upset or emotional, let them feel what they are feeling - don't try to change what they are feeling.
If the person dries up let them have space. Ask questions that help them carry on if you feel there is more to be said - "Is there anything else you want to share?"
If you find yourself triggered remember your breathing.
Once you are certain that what needs to be said has been said you can ask if there is anything specific the person needs, or that needs to be done.
3. Ground Yourself
Exercise 3 - Feet, Seat, Breath
This is a good exercise for someone who is in deep anxiety or is overwhelmed with emotion. When we are anxious and overwhelmed we feel unsupported, as if we might collapse. We tend to hold ourselves up (literally and figuratively) so we can become wobbly and unstable (in all senses). We can find our support starting with the feet.
Check in to see what’s going on inside. Are you hot or cold, fidgety or still?
Feel into your feet, to feel the support of the ground. Push both feet into the floor and really feel the connection between the soles of your feet and the ground.
Next your seat. Remember what it is like to sit in a chair for too long so we start moving, wriggling in the chair. Wriggle in your chair now. Really feel your seat in the support of the chair.
Now focus on your breathing - don’t do anything to it, just let it be as it is. So just follow the breath in and out for 5 breaths. Notice how the breath just happens whether you do anything or not. It is always there.
Check - how do you feel now?
Repeat the same cycle two or three times until you start to feel calmer and more grounded and supported.
4. Stay Positive
Exercise 4 - Cultivating positive thoughts
Even in the toughest times there are positive things that can make us happy. Creating a positive mindset can ward off a tendency to catastrophise or to always look for what's missing or what's wrong rather than what's right.
There is a time for this exercise. Don't force people to be positive. If they really need to offload their negative feelings - just listen, exercise 2. Use this exercise when you want to create a general atmosphere of positivity.
This exercise can be be done with an individual or with a group.
Write down 10 or more things that are positive in your life, that you enjoy or that you are grateful for.
These might be people around you, family, friends, colleagues
They might be things you enjoy, a cup of good coffee, a quiet cup of tea,
You might appreciate the positive impact you are having on the people you care for and their families
You might simply appreciate the blueness of the sky or the sound of birds singing or a particular tree you pass on your way to work.
Whatever you write down, make them things that you come into contact with regularly.
Each day look for one of these things and take a few moments to really appreciate it, to feel and acknowledge its presence in your life, that it is still there.
Whenever you feel down or overwhelmed, take a moment to bring to mind something that is a source of happiness for you.
If you feel gratitude towards a person, take the time to tell them. This is a gift that costs nothing but will make them, and you feel like a million dollars.
5. Create a caring Workplace
Exercise 5 - the caring workplace checklist
Look through the 10 points below and ask yourself which one will have the biggest impact in your workplace. You can include colleagues in reviewing the checklist to create ownership and choose one or two actions together.
Look after the atmosphere
Are people starting to grumble and be negative. Make sure you model the positive atmosphere you want to see. If you are feeling negative, ask for help. Act quickly to spot who is struggling and help them. Get any negativity out on the table and use the exercises above to listen deeply and generate positivity.
It's OK to be kind to yourself
This is a marathon, not a sprint and we all need to keep ourselves in the right state to carry on. Make sure people know that it's OK to take breaks and look after their own basic needs and it's OK to to ask for help. A 15 minute break today is better than a complete breakdown tomorrow.
Make sure people look after each other
If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together - as the proverb says. Make sure that everyone has someone to turn to for emotional first-aid. Look out for people who are becoming isolated. Check in regularly with people, how are they doing, what do they need?
Ask for what you need.
There are lots of people who want to help. Ask for what you need. If you need tea and kit-kats, ask for tea and kit-kats. Somebody might surprise you and turn up with them. Don't be afraid to be demanding.
The Wallow Room
If you can, set aside a room where people can go to vent or cry or whatever they need to do to deal with what they are feeling. Remember, everyone needs a good wallow sometimes. To complement the wallow room it can help to create no moan zones where colleagues are asked to refrain from moaning or complaining or otherwise expressing their anxieties, especially in front of patients.
Make sure people know it's OK to have a wobble
Unprocessed emotions do more harm than processed emotions. Make sure that people know that it's Ok to have a wobble and that it's normal to need to cry or offload sometimes.
Be kind to each other
During times of extreme stress emotions can run over. Sometimes people are unkind or short-tempered because they are struggling hard to deal with their own emotions. If somebody behaves badly with you cut them some slack. Don't take things personally but see bad behaviour as a call for help rather than an attack.
Being appreciative is a great antidote to any kind of negativity and stress. There are great things happening everywhere if you look. Tell people what a great job they are doing. Tell people that you are glad they are there.
Remember to breathe
Breathing is the best cure for anxiety. Remember to breathe and help others to remember to breathe.
Remember just how much everybody loves you all for what you are doing
This page was compiled by Dave Corbet of Greengage Consulting Ltd based on advice from dozens of friends and colleagues (most of them therapists, counsellors or coaches) including: Lin Brown, Jenny Bonada, John Farrer, Hilary Samson-Barry, James Hodgkinson, Linda Downey, Mo Ross, Candace Harris, Lisa Barrett, Sue Martin, Paul Hancock, Maya Vati Roberts, Jane Dallas Ross, Charles Forsythe, Angie Searle, Murray Corke, Jim Platts, Ruth Corbet and many, many others. The idea of the wallow room is based on Paul McGee's idea of Hippo time. Please feel free to use or distribute the material for any non commercial use and attribute the source in any way that helps. All images are from Unsplash.com
For more information or to give feedback contact Dave through the Greengage website.