Taking care of yourself when you’re trying to help others

If you’re in Canterbury, or elsewhere in New Zealand and are trying to look after the needs of those affected by the Canterbury Earthquake, there are a few pointers to bear in mind to help you you and others well, and safe from potential harm.

Let’s start with the positives:

DO

Promote SAFETY
Help people meet basic needs such as food and medical assistance.

Promote CALM
Provide accurate information about the situation and listen to those who want to share their feelings and stories.

Promote CONNECTEDNESS
Help people to contact their loved ones and keep families together.

Promote HOPE
Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and remind people that the responders are doing all they can to help.

Promote SELF-SUFFICIENCY
Give practical suggestion on what people can do.

Now, the things to avoid:

DON’T

Don’t force people to share their stories.

Don’t say everything will be OK.

Don’t tell people what and how they should feel.

Don’t tell people how they should have acted earlier.

Don’t make promises that cannot be kept.

Don’t criticise services in front of those who are in need of them.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to feel and react to a disaster. You also need to remember that whether you’re working or volunteering to help others, if you don’t keep yourself safe and well, you won’t  be able to do it for very long, and you may even do yourself harm. Here are some tips you might find useful to keep yourself as well as you can.

TAKING CARE OF YOUR BODY

Get enough sleep and rest. Eat healthily. Exercise as much you can – rhythmic activities like walking, running, and swimming. Avoid drugs and excessive drinking and smoking.

TAKING CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Learn about normal and abnormal reactions to disasters. Don’t ignore your own emotions. Know when to seek help. Do things you find relaxing.

TAKING CARE OF YOUR SPIRITUAL SELF

Make time to reflect. Meditate. If you find it helpful, pray. Find spiritual connection or community.

INCREASING YOUR RESILIENCY

Do something that will help you to regain a sense of control. Focus on your strengths and positive coping skills.

REACHING OUT

If you feel overwhelmed reach out. Do not be afraid to accept help.

REMAINING ACTIVE

Go back to your normal activities as soon as it feels comfortable to do so.

MANAGING YOUR WORKLOAD

Maintain a healthy balance between your work and rest. Take breaks and time off. Prioritise your tasks.

REDUCING YOUR STRESS

Do things you find comforting: exercise, read, listen to music. Be with people whose company you enjoy. Practice stress reducing exercises.

I’ve adapted these points from the from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Office of Mental Health Disaster Preparedness and Response. I hope you find them useful.

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