Misuse of Alcohol to Manage Stress

Under stressful circumstances many people turn to alcohol to help manage stress.  Alcoholic drinks are often consumed to “take off the edge” or “relax” after a long, hard day of work.  While this may seem to help in the moment, in reality it pushes the emotions one is experiencing below consciousness or awareness.  It is difficult to resolve emotion that has been repressed and can build up if the pattern of repression is habitual.  Repeated alcohol consumption to manage stress can lead to addiction, which can have severe consequences affecting every area of one’s life.

Those who are experiencing personal trauma and/or secondary trauma through their work, family relationships or socially may be especially vulnerable to misuse of alcohol in order to mask painful emotions.  The moments when an individual most feels like they need a drink are often the worst time for a drink.

It is a good practice to be mindful when you feel the urge to have a drink.  Good questions to ask yourself are “why do I feel the need to drink right now?” and “what activity could I engage in that would be better for my health?”  Examples of healthy alternatives can include exercise, mindfulness meditation, breathwork, taking a relaxing bath, journaling, or seeking support.

The ability to meet yourself where you are, regardless of how difficult it may seem in the moment, is a skill worth mastering.  If you don’t like where you are, it is a good indication that you need to do something different, nurture yourself and/or perhaps seek some support or assistance to work through the emotions brought on by stress.  This can be done by talking with a trusted friend, co-worker, life coach, support group or therapist.  More involved help may be necessary if you suspect an alcohol addiction.

I was facilitating a Compassion Stress Management course for professional caregivers last year and had a participant walk out in the middle of the class.  A few days later I received an email from this individual that something I said had inspired her to leave and find an Alcoholics Anonymous group that was meeting in that city (she was from out of town) immediately.  This was an excellent example of self-awareness, courage and doing what she found necessary to cultivate a healthier, addiction free lifestyle.

A link to the article “Workplace Stress as a Trigger for Addiction” has been included http://stepstorecovery.com/workplace-stress-addiction/  for those who are interested in reading about the link between stressful work environment and the use of drugs and alcohol to cope.  Additionally, it provides alternatives available to promote a healthy lifestyle.

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Give Yourself a Break!

Taking breaks is helpful to avoid physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.  Awareness, self-permission and planning may be necessary to getting the break you need.  As humans, our bodies and minds need time for rest and rejuvenation in order to function optimally.  It is important to allow yourself to take breaks throughout the day, weekly and yearly.  While this may seem obvious, many people push themselves beyond what is healthy and don’t take the time necessary to rejuvenate.

Your body is an amazing source of information.  Having a connection with your body is helpful as it will signal you when it is time to step away from the pressures of life.  Connecting with your body requires awareness, or paying attention to how it feels.  For example, if you are at work and notice a feeling of tension in your shoulders and a sense of overwhelm, it would be a good time to leave your office and step outside for a few minutes.  If you notice feeling more tired than usual you may want to take a nap or allow for extra sleep at night until you feel revitalized or change your sleep patterns. I encourage you to be mindful of how you feel because it can give you information regarding what you need.  Ignoring the body’s signals can often lead to more serious situations, such as illness.

Breaks from work, responsibilities at home and from life’s pressures can have benefits such as improved health and wellness, reduced stress, shift in perspective, mental clarity and increased productivity.  Although taking breaks is an investment of time, the potential health benefits and efficiency gained are worth finding the time.

Giving yourself permission to take a break is often necessary as may seem as though there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done.  This can be especially important if the idea of taking a break makes you feel guilty, lazy or unproductive.  Repeating an affirmation in your mind, such as “it is okay for me to rest” might be helpful if you struggle with taking breaks.

A mid-day break or a lunch break is a great time to refresh and release stress of the morning by stepping away from your desk.  Many people work through lunch with the notion that it will increase their productivity.  In actuality, you may find that you return from the break with more clarity and energy, which can result in higher productivity.  In addition to eating lunch you may find the time to workout, spend some time outdoors or to run an errand that would give you more time for your evening activities.  Lunch with a co-worker or friend can be a wonderful opportunity to have fun and develop supportive relationships.  If taking lunch breaks is not encouraged at your workplace, taking a regular lunch break may be an opportunity to model effective self-care.  An improved attitude and higher productivity would certainly have everyone wondering what your secret is!

Taking a break, in the moment when you need, it advisable but not always practical.  I encourage you to find some time each day to rest and do something nurturing for yourself.  This may require some planning or can be done spontaneously when you see a window of time.  Good questions to ask yourself each day are “what breaks did I allow myself today?” and/or “what did I do for myself today?”  You will gain awareness of your habits through answering these questions daily.  From this place of awareness you can make the necessary changes to accommodate your needs for rejuvenation.

Scheduling time for rest and enjoyment each week is a good habit.  Setting aside a large portion of time or a day of rest each weekend can help you to refresh and maintain balance.  Additionally, taking vacation time each year can be restorative, aid in maintenance of a positive outlook and prevent burnout.  Scheduled time off can be beneficial whether you go on a trip or stay home.  Allowing yourself some time to do what you feel like doing in the moment can feel liberating and help release tension.

Taking breaks daily, weekly and yearly is good self-care practice.  Meeting your needs for rest, rejuvenation and fun can help to improve job satisfaction, prevent burnout and result in a better quality of life.  Enjoy taking a break for YOU today and every day!

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Compassion Fatigue: Warning Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of compassion fatigue can appear gradually or suddenly depending on the individual’s circumstances.  The Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL) version 5 (2009) developed by Dr. Beth Hudnall-Stamm can be used to measure compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress (compassion fatigue).  This self-assessment is available as a resource on our website.  Below you will find warning signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue according to Dr. Angela Panos.  If you experience compassion fatigue symptoms and/or have any concerns regarding your personal scores on the ProQOL you should consult with a physician or mental health professional.

Compassion Fatigue:  Warning Signs and Symptoms

  • Feeling estranged from others
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Outbursts of anger or irritability with little provocation
  • Startling easily
  • While working with a victim thinking about violence or retribution against the person or person who was victimized
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of sessions with difficult clients or families
  • Feeling there is no one to talk with about highly stressful experiences
  • Working too hard for your own good
  • Frightened of things traumatized people and their families have said or done to you
  • Experience troubling dreams similar to a client of yours or their family
  • Suddenly and involuntarily recalling a frightening experience while working with a client
  • Preoccupied with a client or their family
  • Losing sleep over a client and their family’s traumatic experiences
  • Felt a sense of hopelessness associated with working with clients and their families
  • Have felt weak, tired, rundown as a result of your work as a caregiver
  • Unsuccessful / find it difficult to separate work life from personal life
  • Felt little compassion toward many of your co-workers
  • Thoughts that you are not succeeding at achieving your life goals
  • Feel you are working more for the money than for personal fulfillment
  • A sense of worthlessness / disillusionment / resentment associated with your work

Citations

Panos, A. Understanding and preventing compassion fatigue – A handout for professionals, Retrieved August 22, 2014 from http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/prvntcf.html.

Stamm, B (2009).  Professional quality of life:  compassion satisfaction and fatigue subscales, R-IV (ProQol).  retrieved August 22, 2014 from http://www.proqol.org/ProQol_Test.html.

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What is Self-Care?

A focus on self-care is becoming increasingly important as the demands within caregiving professions seem to be intensifying.  Self-care is any activity of an individual that is done with the intention of improving or maintaining wellness.  Professional self-care can be defined as the incorporation of skills and strategies by caregivers to preserve their personal, familial, emotional and spiritual needs while serving the needs of their clients (Newell & MacNeil, 2010).

Categories for self-care can include 1) physical:  body work, exercise, adequate sleep, nutrition:  2) psychological:  effective relaxation time, contact with nature, forms of creative expression, balance between work and recreation;  3) social/interpersonal:  supportive relationships and knowing when/how to obtain help;  and 4) professional:  balancing work and home life, setting boundaries and limits, and getting help/support through peers, role models, and supervisors (Charles Figley interview, 2005).

Self-care has been identified as the greatest strategy to prevent or reduce the undesirable effects of Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, Vicarious Traumatization and Burnout.  Professional caregivers are at much higher risk than other professionals of experiencing compassion fatigue due to the nature of our work (Radey & Figley, 2007).

Compassion is a very important element in the success of a caregiver engaging clients in direct practice work.  In order to gain the trust of the clients we mush develop a positive working relationship and be able to empathize with the client.  “Sometimes our hearts go out to the clients to the point where we feel their pain and suffering, which can lead to mental, physical and emotional fatigue” (Radey & Figley, 2007).  Chronic exposure to others’ traumatic events is also a factor that puts caregivers at higher risk of experiencing compassion fatigue.  Compassion fatigue can lead to burnout, a condition of emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual exhaustion that results from practicing with people who are vulnerable or suffering (Newell & MacNeil, 2010).

Citations

Compassion fatigue:  An expert interview with Charles R. Figley, (2005).  Retrieved 4/15/14 from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/513615.

Newell, J., & MacNeil, ., (2010).  Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue:  a review of theoretical terms, risk factors and preventative methods for clinicians and researchers.  Best Practices in Mental Health 6(2), 57-68.

Radey, M., & Figley, C., (2007).  The social psychology of compassion.  Clinical Social Work Journal 35(1), 207-214.

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Secondary Trauma and Self-Care

Maintaining high levels of compassion and empathy required by caregiving professionals can be difficult, given the intensity and high demands of the work.  Professional caregivers, including but not limited to:  mental health professionals, medical practitioners, first responders and animal caregivers are exposed to the traumas of the clients they serve.  This indirect exposure to graphic material can be through hearing the stories told by clients/patients or by assisting them during or immediately following a trauma, such as during a life threatening emergency or in the emergency room, for example.

Research has been done to verify that caregivers are at high risk of experiencing symptoms of secondary trauma.  Professional caregivers studied include, but are not limited to:  social workers, child welfare workers, substance abuse counselors, domestic/sexual violence social workers, emergency room nurses, hospice nurses, juvenile justice education workers, firefighters and chaplains working following the events of 9/11 in New York City.

Self-Care has been identified, through research, as the greatest prevention of experiencing the negative effects of secondary trauma.  It is the intention of Self-Care Specialists to provide progressive training for professional caregivers that creates awareness regarding secondary trauma injuries and to teach effective stress management tools as prevention.  It is important for professional caregivers to take optimal care of themselves in order to maintain resiliency and the ability to provide superior service to those clients who trust and rely upon us to assist with their needs.

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