How To Build Your Personal Capacity: Resilience is Key
There are many things aid workers can do to strengthen and maintain their emotional wellbeing. Proactively engaging in resilience promoting behaviors improves the ability to manage stress and recover from trauma. The effectiveness of these steps has been replicated in both our research and clinical practice. Here are the most important:
- Know thyself: Self-assessment is a great way to begin a personal self-care and resilience regimen. Identify any predisposition to mental illness related to personal or family history. Inventory the emotional hazards associated with a particular deployment, while appreciating the accumulated impact of past assignments. Assess the adequacy of existing social support networks. Evaluate the impact of your employer’s policies and practices on your emotional wellbeing. Recruit a loved one or mental health professional to help you conduct this self-assessment so that you correctly identify your emotional vulnerabilities. Repeat this process periodically throughout your career, particularly at times of transition.
- Practice resilience: Armed with the results of a thorough self-assessment, it’s possible to design and implement an effective self-care and resilience-building program. Strengthen emotional vulnerabilities where possible. Learn how to accommodate to personal limitations resistant to change – factor them into your everyday plans. Most important, rely on your emotional and spiritual strengths. Exercise them to make them stronger. They are essential to maintaining your overall wellbeing. Creating an effective self-care regimen can be done more easily in partnership with a committed friend, family member, counselor, mentor, or colleague who will provide honest feedback. It is much harder to do this alone. And, don’t forget the importance of good physical health – a sound mind relies first on a sound body. So, exercise, diet, and competent medical care are prerequisites to brain health. In fact, evidence of the benefits of regular exercise, in particular, is so compelling that it deserves to be the cornerstone of every aid workers resilience program.
- Recovery is necessary: Nearly half of all aid workers experience a life threatening critical incident at some point in their career. Even the strongest person can be seriously impacted by a traumatic event, requiring days, weeks, or months of recovery. It is a mistake to minimize the brain and body’s need to rest and repair. Deliberately managing the recovery from an auto accident, physical assault, or other upsetting experience increases the likelihood of a quicker and more complete return to normal. Debriefing the incident and its consequences is an important step toward full recovery. Again, this is best accomplished in partnership with a committed friend, family member, counselor, mentor, or colleague. And, recovery will likely take twice as long as you think it should.
- Get professional help when needed: Sometimes even the most loving partner or friend may be unable to help someone regain his or her emotional equilibrium. This is particularly true for those struggling with substance abuse, suicidal or homicidal impulses, irrational thoughts that lead to impulsive or self-destructive behavior, moderate to severe depression, or PTSD. In such cases, it is wise to consult a mental health professional who understands the interaction between psychological health and aid work. One or more conversations may be necessary to agree on an effective plan for managing emotional distress and returning to a higher level of functioning and wellbeing. A suitable referral can often be obtained from a trusted colleague, family member, friend, community leader, or physician.
Look out for PART 3 - How to build resilient teams and organizations!