Westchester Breathes is an ongoing program, initiated by the Westchester Library System (WLS) in 2018, that offers an experience of gentle movement, breathing and relaxation exercises that reduce stress and anxiety and increase a sense of calm and well-being. These exercises are simple and evidence-based – which is to say they are accessible to multiple audiences and they work!
Those of us with trauma histories are especially vulnerable to the addictive properties of social media and some of these app designs. While this seems like a personal struggle, there are systemic reasons that smartphone apps are so compelling. Changing some of how we interact with our phones can lower our nervous system activation and help us focus. Taking a couple deep breaths before opening an app can help lower your heart rate and build a pause before a compulsive phone behavior. Practicing single-tasking (instead of multi-tasking) when on screens can lower anxiety and help us focus. Putting phones out of sight and out of the room when trying to focus on a project, task, or hobby can help us focus.
I sat down today to write this blog post about resilience and healing and how we can all begin to move on as a community of helpers when everyone is so depleted. When I suggested the topic, I was feeling optimistic, thinking the warm, sunny weather may bring a wave of relief and energy as the school year wraps up, summer comes, and we can push the reset button. And then Buffalo happened. And I am reminded that there is not going to be an “end” to where we are. Yes, we will move on from the acuteness of the pandemic at some point and we will begin to see its impacts wane. But I’m not sure we’ll ever, at least not in my lifetime, see an end to racial trauma and this divisiveness and hatred that has wracked our country for…well forever.
For far too long mental health has been a subject that we don’t talk enough about. Stigma has been a powerful force in shaping the way society views and thinks about mental health, contributing to negative and inaccurate perceptions that lead to discrimination in all facets of life. This has been particularly true in the workplace. Despite the fact that approximately 20% of individuals in the US experience a mental health concern annually, conversations about how to recognize and respond to signs of concern are often avoided. It is not difficult to connect this to the outcome that more than half of those reporting a mental health concern have not received treatment.
Burnout is that feeling of constant depletion; perpetually trying to pour from an empty vessel. It’s so interesting that “soldier on” and “grin and bear it” are such common phrases when we talk about burnout, or feelings in general. However, unless we acknowledge and validate our feelings we end up creating a pipeline for emotional bypass that can sometimes pass as resilience. What might look like resilience and “bouncing back,” can actually instead be suppressed and repressed emotions. These feelings can manifest themselves as back pain, sleeplessness, overeating, anxiety and even depression. We end up living in a world of pressure, overwhelm, stress and frustration. We cannot be effective in our jobs if we come from a place of exhaustion, pressure, and overwhelm. So, here are 4 things you can do to move from emotional bypass to resilience, in the true sense of the word.
When police are the first responders to those in crisis, many individuals do not feel safe, and the presence of law enforcement can add to the overwhelmed feelings. Unfortunately, a well-intended response by police can be traumatic for some individuals. To address that issue, many communities are questioning whether police should be the first or lone responders to individuals experiencing behavioral health crises. New York State has two programs that directly address these concerns - the state-wide Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program, and the Mobile Access Program (MAP).
Neural evidence of resilience is seen when an individual engages in new problem-solving activity (thoughts, feelings, or behaviors) in the face of a challenge. The goal of effective crisis response is to establish a safe environment that allows the individual to move past feeling overwhelmed and begin to create a plan to use helpful coping strategies. New behaviors lead to new neural pathways, and hopefully, a new state of equilibrium for the individual when the issue is resolved. For others, particularly those with significant histories of abuse or those under unrelenting stress, their coping mechanisms can be overrun, leaving them further traumatized and in need of support.
Those impacted by traumatic events and toxic stress are known to have shifts in decision making related to their health (e.g., substance use, risky sexual behavior, and disordered eating). Trauma leads to risk health behavior via coping behaviors (e.g., using substances to cope with intense emotions) and impulsivity (i.e., a lack of inhibition). Thus, increasing traumatic experiences across the globe relevant to the pandemic are likely to impact health decision making and associated costs in health care needs. One of the major features explaining the impact of trauma on health decision making is its impact on emotion regulation. Experiences with trauma increase the intensity and frequency of emotions such as fear, anger, and hurt – which result in increased difficulty concentrating in day-to-day life, planning ahead, and in the moment decision making. Thus, making health decisions is complicated by a history of trauma.
Intergenerational trauma is trauma that moves through and affects people within a family or community which results from a traumatic event that happened years before the current generation. Intergenerational trauma can affect how individuals within a family or community understand, deal with and heal from trauma. The effects of intergenerational trauma are palpable and serious. So what can be done to either support people who experience intergenerational trauma as allies or personally cope as survivors with the combined traumas of COVID-19 and intergenerational trauma?
While many organizations have embraced using trauma-informed practices, it may be challenging to start implementing trauma-informed workplace policies. Using trauma-informed Human Resources practices provides a concrete opportunity to embed trust, transparency, safety, and collaboration into everyday organizational practices.