Don't Inhale That Secondary Stress

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

We know there is danger from being around tobacco users and secondary smoke is now a documented health hazard. How do the effects of secondary stress impact us in the workplace and in other settings?

Secondary stress is where we psychologically take on the challenges that other people face and somehow make them our own. The most common example of professionals would be health care providers who experience compassion fatigue, burnout, and other emotional experiences. However, anyone of us can experience secondary stress when a loved one gets ill, a co-worker screws up a project that impacts the rest of the team, or when we stand up because we see an injustice being put on others. We want to help but we don’t want to take on their pain.

Our resilience strategies can help us minimize secondary stress by using an old time medical approach. Inoculating ourselves against the possible effects of secondary stress help us build our hardiness and insure that our friends and colleagues are supported effectively. Some of those strategies include:

  1. Conduct an analysis of what could go wrong with a particular issue. We tend to focus on the idea the everything will somehow work out and while that is a good approach, recognizing the downside of possible situations, like how a new workplace project could fail, help us identify before hand what could go wrong.
  2. Act before the secondary stress becomes primary on you. You don’t want to wait until you are burnt out from other’s problems. You may notice that you are actually “browning out” where your fatigue is increased and sleep is interrupted. If that happens, take some action such as a day off with family, talking with a colleague, or escaping for a weekend of skiing.
  3. Take the high road. It’s easier to maintain a hopeful attitude when you have a mission greater than yourself at hand. Holding a belief about doing the right kind of work gives insulates us from the minutiae of others that drag us down.

It may be challenging to not inhale the secondary fumes of stress. It’s all around us and while we want to do good by others remember what they tell us on the plane, “put your oxygen mask on first.”

© Richard Citrin, All rights reserved, 2017


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