As frontline workers, we spend a lot of time with people who are feeling anxious or angry, or depressed, helpless, hopeless and perhaps suicidal. So what effect might this be having on each of us?
In this month’s blog, Abby Perrins (reflective practice facilitator, psychotherapeutic counsellor and BHT Sussex trainer) talks to BHT Training about the importance of looking after your own emotional health and resilience when working in the frontline sector.
Yesterday, I got up feeling chirpy, but by lunchtime I was feeling low. When I stopped to reflect, I realised that throughout the morning I had soaked up heavy feelings from sad stories in the news and from meeting with someone I care about.
As humans, we can easily find ourselves like sponges, soaking up the emotions that surround us. This makes sense, as our nervous systems unconsciously mirror those that we are with. For example, if you are around people who are anxious or angry, your nervous system may heighten and lead to you feeling
stressed. On the flip side, if you are with someone who feels low or depressed your nervous system may slump and you may feel low in mood yourself.
As frontline workers, we spend a lot of time with people who are feeling anxious or angry, or depressed, helpless, hopeless and perhaps suicidal. So what effect might this be having on each of us? It means frontline working can leave us feeling stressed or low, as our nervous systems mirror those around us and we find ourselves soaking up difficult emotions and even taking them home with us. Alternatively, some frontline workers survive by shutting down their emotions and desensitising, which can be a way to cope but can be like pushing a beach ball under the water- at some point it may burst up and lead to psychological distress.
I worked as a frontline worker in drug and alcohol and homelessness services for over seven years. When I went on to train as a therapist, I learnt a lot about how the nervous system responds when working with relational trauma, how to not soak up the emotions of those around me and how to regulate my nervous system and look after my wellbeing whilst working in an emotionally intense job.
As I learnt, I reflected on how helpful it would have been to of had this knowledge when I was working in homeless services. It would have been great for my emotional health to have known this stuff and could have prevented me from burning out. This sparked an idea of designing and developing a Wellbeing Workshop for frontline workers. The workshop enables participants to understand their nervous system and how to manage stress, anxiety, frustration/anger, low mood and vicarious trauma. The workshop is down to earth and practical, with engaging teaching and reflective exercises that enable you to develop a self-care tool kit of tools and techniques that are unique to you.
I am passionate about a cultural change across the sector that prioritises and values worker wellbeing- as it not only enables a healthy, resilient and flourishing team of frontline workers, but has a knock on effect on frontline teams being able to reduce staff sickness, burnout and compassion fatigue, and improves the quality of support offered to service users. Frontline working can be intense and draining. If you imagine a jug of water that keeps being poured out it will eventually run dry. We need to find ways to refill our own jugs and reservoirs to be able to keep giving out to others.
BHT’s Worker Wellbeing: Reflective Frontline Working course can help you explore how that is possible for you and your team. It also explores what can get in the way of taking the time to refill your own jug. For some people it can feel selfish and they rather not focus on their own needs, for some they can see it as ‘weak’ to focus on their struggles and wellbeing, and for others it can feel scary to slow down and reflect on yourself. This can keep us away from refilling our own tanks day today or signing up to this workshop perhaps?!
Wherever you are at, I welcome you to come as you are into a supportive space to explore what can enable you to grow in health, resilience and to flourish in yourself and your role.
I found it really useful being in a space with other support workers from different projects and hearing other peoples difficulties within this line of work. It was reassuring to me to feel I wasn’t the only one struggling and Abby gave me a lot of optimism and reassurance with this.
Find Out More
If you would like to book a place on our ‘Worker Wellbeing: Reflective Frontline Working’ course with Abby, please click on the link below:
Abby works as a group facilitator, trainer, reflective practice facilitator and psychotherapeutic counsellor. She previously worked for over seven years as a frontline worker in homelessness and drug and alcohol services. Abby is passionate about combining her experience and expertise to support the mental health and wellbeing of frontline workers. She has designed and developed the Frontline Worker Wellbeing Workshop with a recognition that this leads to improved wellbeing of frontline workers, as well as better quality support being offered to service users in homelessness services.