By Steve Moran
It would be nearly impossible to be working in senior living over the last year and not have some symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Here is the definition:
“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
I do want to be careful here for two reasons. The first is that it is pretty easy to make PTSD the next “pop” thing that every other person is suffering from. The second is that only a relatively few numbers of senior living team members have experienced the worst kind of terror that PTSD refers to.
But at the same time . . .
I don’t want to minimize the traumatic nature of what happened to many of you who would go home knowing that your residents and team members got sick and died under your watch when it was your job to protect them.
There is not a single person in the senior living ecosystem who has not experienced profound loss: jobs, friends, and colleagues who have died; funerals and dying relatives that you could not attend to.
Negative consequences from post-traumatic stress are not the only option for you and your team members who have suffered so much emotional and physical trauma over the last number of months. There is something called post-traumatic growth.
The idea is that growth can come out of these traumatic experiences. And that as leaders, we can help facilitate growth processes for our team members and ourselves. This is not a substitute for professional help if the trauma is significant or persistent.
Here are 5 things you can do:
- Acknowledge that the trauma is real and extreme feelings are appropriate. Just toughing it out is the wrong approach.
- Talk about it as a shared experience (adapted from Harvard Business Review):
- What is the greatest loss you experienced during COVID-19?
- What is the greatest gain you experienced during COVID-19?
- What are you learning about yourself during COVID-19?
- What would it look like if you applied your learnings going forward?
- What two words or short phrases will remind you of how to apply what you’re learning?
- Talk about how, while what happened to team members was largely or completely out of their control, they do have control over the future. Spend some time talking about what that future could look like.
- Talk about what your team member’s north star is. What are their core foundations? It could be religion, family, or passion.
- Find purposeful tasks/projects to work on. This is unique for senior living because we have that every day, improving the lives of our residents and their families.
The most important thing you can do for yourself and your teams is to tackle it, wade into it head-on.