Please Put Your Oxygen Mask on First…to Avoid 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 our lives?

Secondary stress is where we psychologically take on the challenges that other people face and somehow make them our own. Our most recent example would be the plight of our heroic heath care professionals dealing with their Covid patients and who often wound up experiencing compassion fatigue, burnout, and other emotional difficulties.

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 we’re dealing with our kids having to do their schoolwork from home due to their classes being online. We want to help but we don’t want to take on do much of other’s difficulties.

Our resilience strategies can help us minimize secondary stress by using the technique that is being done across the globe—Inoculation.

Vaccinating ourselves against the possible effects of secondary stress helps us build our hardiness against the winds of stress.

Some of our Resilience Advantage Inoculation strategies include:

  1. 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 to recoup energy and talking with a trusted colleague.
  2. Include the downside in your planning. 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, helps us identify beforehand what could go wrong.
  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.”

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