Stress First Aid: Self-Care and Co-worker Support Actions
As we continue to dive deeper into Stress First Aid (SFA), we have learned how to check in with ourselves using the SFA Stress Continuum, and we’ve seen that we already use many of the 7 Cs action steps (Check, Coordinate, Cover, Calm, Connect, Competence, and Confidence). Now we’re going to look at how it might play out in a real-world veterinary setting.
- Self-Care: Become aware of your own personal "red flags"– indicators of orange or red zone from the Stress Continuum.
- Co-worker: Ask how someone is doing in an authentic and private way, away from the rest of the staff and ask how they prefer to be checked on (text/email/etc.).
Stephanie, a veterinary technician, was getting extremely irritated with the smallest things around the clinic and snapping at the receptionists, which is very unlike her usual demeanor. Her practice manager, Grace, pulled her aside and shared what she noticed in Stephanie’s behavior and wanted to make sure she was okay. Stephanie then shared that her mother had an upcoming biopsy and was scared that she was going to get diagnosed with cancer . . . (To be continued . . . )
- Self-Care: Seek support services for yourself after identifying the effects of a stress injury that may be impacting your functioning.
- Co-worker: Identify at least two potential trusted resources to which you can refer distressed co-workers and keep support service flyers in plain sight for your team to easily reference.
Grace empathized with Stephanie and asked if she had a therapist or counselor to talk to about her concerns. When Stephanie said “no,” Grace asked if she had ever used the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services offered through their benefits plan. Stephanie shook her head as she became teary-eyed, and Grace led her into the office for some extra privacy.
- Self-Care: Ensure that you are in a safe situation, and asking yourself “What would I need to feel safe and supported right now?”
- Co-worker: Ensure that the distressed co-worker and team is safe emotionally and from other environmental threats.
Grace asked one of the other technicians if they wouldn’t mind moving their break to later in the day to cover Stephanie’s cases while they worked through coordinating her support together.
- Self-Care: Identify ways to help yourself focus on the present and practice coping skills to help you downregulate your stress response.
- Co-worker: Use a calming tone of voice, provide reassurance and understanding, and guide the distressed co-worker through stress coping skills.
Grace provided Stephanie with tissues and told her in a soothing voice that she understood how scared and worried she must be. To help refocus her attention and provide temporary distraction, Grace asked Stephanie if she could remember the name of the patient in her first surgery after graduating from tech school.
- Self-Care: Know which people in your life will support and comfort you and create a support network for yourself that you can connect with during difficult times.
- Co-worker: Inquire about what kinds of social support your co-worker has both in and out of the clinic and help connect them with available support resources.
Once Stephanie had reminisced about her first surgery patient, which brought some laughter to the conversation because the dog’s name was Noodle, Grace pulled out the EAP flyer. She asked if Stephanie would like to make an appointment together. Stephanie agreed.
- Self-Care: Give yourself permission to take a step back and perform tasks that you feel comfortable doing. Engage in activities outside of work that you don’t find challenging, and ask for help with any tasks that might contribute to greater stress levels.
- Co-worker: Identify mentoring opportunities, see where tasks can be delegated or duties reassigned to support the distressed co-worker, and integrate the worker back into normal operations gradually.
After getting Stephanie’s appointment scheduled with a therapist, Grace checked in again with how she was feeling. Once Stephanie shared that she was feeling better now that she had her appointment set, Grace asked what Stephanie would feel comfortable doing for the rest of the day: Did she feel like she could perform her job responsibilities without impairment, or did she need some space to continue processing this life stressor?
Stephanie, knowing the team was already short-staffed, didn’t want to create additional pressure by going home and preferred to stay at work to help her stay distracted. Stephanie shared with Grace that she would feel comfortable performing more of the behind-the-scenes tasks instead of interacting with clients.
- Self-Care: Use positive self-talk and practice skills that support a “growth mindset,” where you can look at mistakes, failures, and accidents as opportunities to learn from versus situations you bully yourself about. Start recognizing each action you take that has a positive impact on yourself or someone else, and take time to appreciate those instances.
- Co-worker: Specifically for leaders, you can begin setting realistic expectations, confront the stigma around stress reactions, and become a role model to demonstrate how to get through difficult situations, which include displaying vulnerability and authenticity. Verbalize positive feedback to help rebuild your team’s confidence and cultivate a supportive environment for stress recovery.
Without going into great detail, Grace informed the team that they would be shifting around some responsibilities for the rest of the day to support a fellow team member's needs. Grace used this as an opportunity to remind the staff, “There will be difficult days in the clinic and there will be difficult days in our personal lives, but nobody has to suffer in silence. We are here for each other, and please know you are safe to share with me or somebody else you trust on the team, and we will work together to figure out a solution for you.”
Grace and Stephanie demonstrate an ideal scenario for how Stress First Aid can be helpful in supporting a co-worker. Our hope is that these examples will be helpful in identifying where you might be able to use SFA for your own self-care and co-worker support.
Catch up on what we’ve covered so far:
- Read the introduction to the Stress Continuum.
- Practice with the NEWStat: Stress First Aid—Check Your Stress Zone video.
- Review the 7 Cs of Stress First Aid.
- Reflect on a recent time when you could have benefited from SFA, either from yourself or a co-worker: What would it have taken for you to feel safe and supported in that moment?
- Identify two potential trusted resources to which you can refer distressed co-workers.
Melyssa Allen, MA, NBC-HWC, DACLM, is a double board-certified lifestyle medicine professional and certified health and wellbeing coach with a diverse background as an animal trainer, fitness instructor, and mental health professional. Using her multidisciplinary expertise in the fields of lifestyle medicine, mental health, and behavior modification, she has dedicated her company, Veterinary Well-Being Buddy, to provide veterinary wellbeing coaching services.
Get to know Melyssa in Episode 59: Stress First Aid for Veterinary Professionals on Central Line: The AAHA Podcast (aaha.org/podcast).
Stress First Aid resources are available from the US Department of Veterans Affairs at ptsd.va.gov — veterinary graphic courtesy of Veterinary Well-Being Buddy.
Cover photo credit: © LIgorko E+ via Getty Images Plus
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.