Saturday, September 25, 2010

Caring for Ourselves First...Our Emotional Well Being

Whether you have been volunteering for a long time or just began your journey, you have undoubtedly been told at some point, "If you don't take care of yourself, you're not going to be any good to anyone." As parents, we are often scolded by our peers because we spend so much time taking care of our children's needs that we often neglect our own. We accept that as part of the deal, right? However, when it's another person's child, a missing one at that who is undoubtedly in danger, we tend to feel an incredible sense of urgency. "This child needs me- now! If I don't devote every possible second to searching...something horrible is going to happen!" Then the next thought is, "My child is safe...what about this poor woman? Her child is gone and she doesn't know when or if she will see her again...I've got to do something!" We recognize the guilt we feel that our children are safe and someone else's child is not. We have all felt that deep worry and sometimes guilt, time and time again. This emotional roller coaster that we got on some time ago never stops, it's just like the mail.

We often talk to each other about how we need to take better care of our physical health. Our chat rooms and facebook pages are riddled with accounts of getting fit, eating right, trying to get better sleep. What about our mental and emotional well being? Even among our tightest knit groups-and there are some really good ones out there-there is a reluctancy to talk about our biggest challenge of all...depression and anxiety.

We have to learn new ways to deal with the anxiety that our worrying tends to breed. We must learn to face our worry over the possible outcome of each case, to deal with it, compartmentalize it. If not, we run the risk of becoming obsessed with anxiety and unable to function, unable to help that missing child or the next one that is sure to follow.

Recognizing when we are giving in to anxiety and becoming fatigued is key. We must watch for the signs of depression and withdrawal among our colleagues and in ourselves. This is not simply a matter of being "a little down" as is normal in the course of our daily activities. I'm referring to actively withdrawing from our daily routines, becoming so depressed that what began as a sincere concern for a stranger has turned into an overwhelming sense of doom that consumes your thoughts regularly. I'm talking about not being able to function in your normal routines, no longer caring about your appearance, your job, your family and friends. I'm referring to no longer enjoying hobbies and interests that use to occupy at least a moderate amount of your time.

If you notice signs of depression and fatigue in yourself or your colleagues, tell someone and get help. Many times, we think of ourselves as the ones out there helping others, but there is NO shame in saying that we need help sometimes, too.

If you notice a colleague hasn't been acting like her "normal, cheery self" or isn't calling, texting, chatting, emailing you like usual; if you think she may be turning to alcohol or drugs to "numb" the emotions she is facing; if you don't see her on the regular facebook, twitter and blogs that she normally visits...say something, ask the question, "Can we talk about this?" Be proactive and don't dismiss it if initially she seems fine. Use humor, your close friendship, your concern for her, whatever you can. Be tactful, but be persuasive.

We all know how difficult it is for us to talk with outsiders about what we do. Consequently, you may be the only line of defense for a friend or colleague who is suffering from depression and anxiety. As we are there for strangers, we must be there for each other.

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