Supporting Your Own State-of-Mind

Taking care of someone else in an anxious or stressed state-of-mind, naturally, results in putting your own headspace at risk. How you manage that risk (and your own mind) determines everything from your own happiness, to how long you’re able to work and help others in your chosen career.

While you might have entered your job aware of the practical pitfalls of the role you signed up to, once you’re in the thick of things, it’s hard to lift your head up to see how daily exposure to serious situations - that you can help, but not control - impacts your ability to function as your happy, authentic self.

The brain of the practitioner isn’t just set to ‘transmit’ - effective communication as a two-way street, and the neuro-plasticity of our mind (which we rely on to help others) means your brain is changed in some way by our interactions with clients.  Your brain, non-consciously, picks up some of what they’re putting down.

Nigel Donovan Nigel Donovan

You wouldn’t be in this field if you didn’t care or have a high sense of empathy, but that openness also means you’re more likely to take your clients’ problems home with you, in some shape or form.  Or like a nurse in a hospital who becomes inoculated against infection through constant exposure, you become inoculated to the feelings of your clients and the empathy and love that brought you into the profession turns into a cauterised indifference or cynicism.

This vicarious trauma might become evident through people exhibiting a high sensitivity to offence or fairness, being closed, defensive, dogmatic, inflexible or progress to more significant, avoidance or aggressive behaviours. These are all self-protective behaviours; all reasonably predictable, over time, of those exposed to stress and trauma.  You see this in the people you support – look around to your colleagues, where are they showing the same symptoms of stress?

Compounding all of this the governments, bureaucracy that are so heavily involved in this sector, can leave you and your co-workers hamstrung and frustrated in your capacity to really render as much help as you would like to.

In my practice, every day, I talk to people about their state-of-mind too.  My brain, just like yours and theirs, is influenced by the same neural structures trying to make sense of and ‘update’ the internal models of the world.

In every open-minded conversation, neural networks adjust.  This can be so gradual that without realising you’re outlook and engagement with life is changed; for better or worse.

What can you do?

Pay attention – ‘talk’ with people (the right people).  For example, make good use of Supervision Meetings, these conversations at their best will allow you to openly debrief with a knowledgeable support, alternatively have that conversation with a work colleague, trusted friend (if appropriate) or quality coach, your neural networks will continue to shift for the positive.

Humans have been supporting each other by ‘talking’ for 100,000 years. It’s still the most effective way to help each other understand, interpret and process their experiences so they can grow and thrive.  ‘Talking therapies’ are at least as effective as medication for improving mental health [Rossouw 2014].  So, prioritise supervision meetings, both structured and ad hoc support in house, or seek quality help from others (just as you would recommend to your clients).

By Nigel Donovan

Nigel Donovan is a personal leadership coach who works primarily with CEOs, general managers, business owners and their executive teams.  He applies a neuro-psychotheraputic approach to help people become more open, collaborative and effective. 

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