Taking Care of the Helper

“Thanks for all you do.” Those who observe the effort, sacrifice and dedication of workers helping others during adversity often share this sincere appreciation. Their kind words do help.

The most critical need for the helper journey is ongoing restoration of the soul. The spirit of disengagedwhat leads us into public service occasionally needs replenishing. Without it we become depleted, “burnt-out” as labeled by the vernacular. It matters not whether we’re helping as a friend or neighbor, an agency volunteer, or a professional responder.

There isn’t one right answer for how to best avoid burnout. We each find our own answer to the question, “What restores me?”

Over the last couple of decades, a wealth of wisdom has sprung up amid our collective. All of us—from the volunteer sandwich-maker, to the life-saving emergency professional, to the wheel-greasing administrator—have nuggets to share. Science and intuition have intermingled as they’ve guided the way.

“You have to take care of yourself to take care of others.” So frequently stated, this admonishment has become trite. It’s still the reality of it. People inclined toward helping are used to giving, not receiving. Drumming up motivation to step back for self-care is especially difficult when you can see all that still needs to be addressed. It is often more easy to see wear and tear in others than in ourselves.

There can’t be cheerful givers without cheerful receivers. The soul gains sustenance through the giving of others. The same connectedness that heals the survivor also provides healing for the helper’s weary spirit.

  • Do you make friends with others who are helping out?
  • Do you take regular breaks from disaster, in the company of others you enjLaughter is the best medicineoy?
  • Do you find things to do with disaster buddies after hours?
  • Do you stay in touch with your support system back home while deployed?
  • After returning from an out of town assignment, do you make a point of catching up with friends and family?
  • Between disaster assignments, do you stay in touch with some of those you’ve worked with?
  • Do you have a spiritual practice that encourages connectedness—with your oneness with nature, a higher power, and/or fellow human beings?

Any or all of these can help. It’s up to the individual. Whatever it is for you, make it a priority. You are worth taking care of, every bit as much so as those you care for.

For more on disaster responder self-care, see “Disaster Mental Health for Responders,” offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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