Book Excerpt: ‘Super-Charge Your Stress Management in the Age of COVID-19’
The personal risks and magnitude of suffering with the pandemic are something no one should have to face alone
By Mike Taigman and Sascha Liebowitz
My friend Danielle KognizAnce Barnes, an Oakland paramedic, posted this on her Facebook page:
My oldest daughter kind of broke my heart tonight ... kids sometimes make you think. Tonight, I was getting my backup uniform together for work tomorrow (we carry a second uniform while on duty), and she asked why I take two and why do I go to work wearing regular clothes, and come home in regular clothes. I simply told her that if I need to change my uniform, like I did today I have an extra one with me and left it at that. Unprompted she looked at me and said, “Momma please don’t bring the coronavirus home to us.” I about cried, like many others out there my daughters have a parent that works in a busy ER as a nurse and one that works on a busy ambulance as a paramedic.
I’ve been honored to work in emergency services for more than 40 years, beginning as a paramedic, and now serving public health, hospital and safety organizations with FirstWatch. My experience has taught me an undeniable truth: the care and safety of patients and communities is directly related to the health and wellbeing of the frontline professionals who provide care and service to the public.
Since leaving the street, I’ve spent my career helping emergency management systems develop strategies to better support their frontline folk. The purpose of leadership, in my opinion, is to ensure that frontline professionals have the systems, tools, and resources necessary to do their work effectively. Having been a member of several emergency services leadership teams over the years, I hope the tools in this book will help those of us on the front line as well as those of us whose job it is to support them. We are in this together.
Right now, I’m hearing from friends all over the world who work in/on paramedic ambulances, hospital emergency departments, intensive care units, patrol cars, 911 dispatch centers, combat units, fire rigs and other critical public service roles. Collectively, they are all working primarily full-time on reducing the suffering related to COVID-19, and they all describe feeling overwhelmed by the constant stress that comes with caring for patients, serving the public, and serving their communities, while trying, at the same time, to protect their families and themselves.
When I was a street paramedic, I felt honored to know my personal actions were making a direct positive difference in people’s lives every day. I also felt personally and saw in my colleagues how the daily stress of showing up and doing what must be done could take a toll, even when there wasn’t a major pandemic. I saw first-hand how particularly traumatic calls affected different people in different ways.
After 9/11, there were reports that about 20% of people who worked the incident had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI). I wondered about the other 80% who didn’t. What did they have that made them able to go through that intense situation and suffer less than other people?
That inquiry brought me to in-depth studies in psychology, neuroscience, Eastern philosophy, somatic techniques, and mindfulness meditation, which I’ve been applying personally and teaching to friends and clients in emergency services for years. I have learned from many great teachers and have been honored to be able to share that learning with others in university and professional settings.
Aware that the COVID-19 outbreak was adding an extra layer of non-stop deadly stress to the daily lives of our public health and safety professionals, I wanted to help. I put together a webinar on stress management and had some colleagues send it out to their contacts, hoping a few folks might be interested. In less than five days, 10,600 people registered.
Unfortunately, the webinar system only had the capacity for 3,000, so most had to watch the recording. I’ve been speaking at conferences for over 40 years and this webinar was my largest audience ever. This gave me a clue that more was needed.
We sent an e-mail to the folks who participated in the webinar and asked if they felt better after using any of the techniques I shared. I heard from emergency medicine physicians in New York City; police officers in Ontario, Canada; fire captains; city auditors; veterans with PTSD; prosecutors; probation officers; wildlife officers; EMTs; trauma-focused psychologists; U.S. Air Force fighter pilots; hostage negotiators; teachers; people in the hospital with COVID-19; and hundreds of others. Every single one of them found something they could use to manage their stress, get through a tough shift at work, be present with their kids or just feel better. The amount of positive feedback from that webinar has been overwhelming.
Most folks on the front line are telling me that they are passionate about what they do; they find purpose and even joy in having to run toward danger rather than away. They also want to continue to do what they do. And yet the personal risks and magnitude of suffering with this pandemic is something no one should have to face alone. And while our jobs are stressful all the time, there is a kind of global uptick in our collective experience of stress.
My goal with this book is to hopefully help my frontline colleagues, friends and family not only get through this crisis with less emotional and physical suffering but also use this situation as an opportunity to power-up our stress-management techniques. Ultimately, I would like this book to reduce suffering and increase joy, my life goal, which fits perfectly with my employer FirstWatch’s stated mission to “Help the Helpers.”
Watch for more: Webinar – First responders, stress management and coronavirus
About the authors
As a popular educator and author of emergency services personnel for several decades, Mike Taigman has focused on helping emergency medical services, Fire, nurses, police, physicians, and other healthcare professionals take better care of themselves so they can take better care of their patients and communities.
Mike has authored more than 600 articles in professional journals and worked with emergency services and healthcare organizations in 48 of the 50 states, most of the Canadian Provinces, Israel, Palestine, Australia, and throughout Europe. His expertise includes stress management, resilience, EMS street survival, patient-centered leadership, and effective quality and performance improvement.
Sascha Liebowitz is a writer and author of Living Every Minute of It, a blog about living each day with patience, tolerance, kindness, and love towards oneself and others. A former New York lawyer, she now lives in California focused on family, writing, and being of service to others. She holds a BA from Columbia College and a JD from New York University School of Law.
Reprinted with permission from “Super-Charge Your Stress Management in the Age of COVID-19,” by Mike Taigman and Sascha Liebowitz
Published in 2020 by Vow3 Publishing
Available on Amazon
$1 from the purchase of each book through the "Super-Charge Your Stress Management" website will be donated to the All Clear Foundation. The All Clear Foundation supports first responders by bringing together hundreds of organizations that provide crisis assistance, peer support, mental and physical wellness, and more. The Foundation helps police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and other first responders find the help they need and connects them with the support they deserve.