This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on September 17, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
Here's how a common conversation I have with an organizational leader who has just been through a natural disaster, mass casualty, or technological disaster tends to go:
Me: "Tell me about how the last couple days have been going."
Leader: describes chaos, endless decisions needing to be made, experiences of shock and disorientation, feelings of heartache and exhaustion, and experiences of adrenaline rushes
Me: Expressions of appreciation, and then, a few questions about how basic daily habits are going, including eating, sleeping, movement, and fellowship with housemates or close friends
Leader, many times: expression about how things have been far too chaotic or their have been far too many decisions to make to do any of that.
Me: Expressions of appreciation, then, gently: "So, when is the next time you will be having a meal with your family (or housemates, or friends)?"
The leader, at this point, often blinks at me, as reality registers: if they keep going at the same pace they have been going for the last few days, they honestly have no idea when they will spend regular time with their loved ones again. Or, exercise regularly. Or, sleep regularly. Or, eat regularly. Or, engage in hobbies again. I sometimes ask, "Does it feel like it might be six months or a year before you do that again?" The leader often nods, as they consider all the work and enormity of needs surrounding them.
This moment of recognition is when the difference between the stress of long term recovery and other types of stressors begins to dawn on a survivor, if it hasn't already, and especially a survivor who has responsibilities for leading an organization through the aftermath of disaster.
Though doing so may feel counter intuitive, we have found that one of the most essential practices for becoming restored after disaster is to begin to implement nourishing routines, even if only in very little ways, as soon as possible. Without forcing or rushing, but rather incorporating them a step at a time sooner than later.
Here are some of the tips that we encourage our leaders to consider resuming, even within the first days after disaster:
These practices will not magically make things better. But you will notice, incrementally, that they help you feel some relief and take another step forward in a healthy way.
At the Institute, we often equate Long Term Recovery with training for a marathon or an extreme sport event. We consider the tips above to be like the water or supplement packets you would take along with you or would stop at a station to receive while you are training or completing the event. Long Term Recovery is a long haul. You will do well to consider what truly nourishes you along the way.
Expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.