U.S COMMITTEE FOR REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS
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USCRI’s Refugee Health Services Department Takes Time to De-Stress

By USCRI November 2, 2023

USCRI’s Refugee Health Services Department Takes Time to De-Stress

By: Rosalind Ghafar Rogers, PhD, LMHC, Clinical Behavioral Health Subject Matter Expert with USCRI’s Refugee Health Services in Arlington, VA

 

USCRI’s Refugee Health Services DepartmentThere is an inherent amount of stress associated with refugee resettlement work. Dealing with the day-to-day needs of refugee clients, managing crisis situations, and bearing witness to clients’ traumatic stories can leave resettlement workers feeling stressed and potentially depleted. Research suggests that prevalence rates of stress conditions among individuals working professionally with forcibly displaced populations range from 30% to 45% (Roberts et al., 2021). Moreover, many refugee resettlement workers tend to come from the communities or populations which they are serving. They often have been through similar struggles and conflicts that their clients have been through, and this may be an additional source of distress.

 

In recognition of International Stress Awareness Week and National Stress Awareness Day, USCRI’s Refugee Health Services team participated in a stress management session at headquarters in Arlington, VA. The team was provided with practical stress management techniques that staff could use anywhere and at any time.

The team learned several grounding techniques that could be used when feeling distressed, worried, orfeeling distressed overwhelmed by stress. When these feelings arise, our minds tend to jump around between various fears, worrisome thoughts, or distressing memories which only serve to make us feel more overwhelmed and stressed out. Grounding techniques help control these feelings and thoughts by refocusing our attention on the present moment through our senses. For example, the 333-grounding technique can be used to intentionally take in the details of your surroundings using your senses to identify 3 things you can see, hear, and feel or touch.

When we are stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, pupils constrict, stress hormones are released, and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. In contrast, slow, deep, and controlled breathing does the opposite – it reduces stress, increases alertness, elicits relaxation, and improves our overall well-being. During the stress management session, the team practiced the 4-4-8 breathing technique that can reduce stress and clear the head of distractions by purposefully extending exhalations. The team also practiced box breathing, a technique that Navy Seals use before combat to increase alertness and enhance focus and attention.

Lastly, the team at USCRI participated in a guided mindfulness STOP meditation for stress. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present by maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings through a gentle and accepting mindset. It’s easy to get caught up in all the stresses and activities of daily life, so the STOP mindfulness practice can be used to inject a little mindful experience throughout your day, whenever you need it most. STOP stands for:

Stop what you are doing and pause momentarily.

Take a breath to anchor yourself to the present moment.

Observe how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and what’s happening in your body.

Proceed with asking yourself, “What is most important for me to pay attention to right now?” “What am I needing right now?” Then proceed with what you were doing or use the information gained from this practice to change course, whether that be taking a break, stretching, eating a snack, or changing our thoughts.

(Goldstein, 2018)

As was discussed by the USCRI team, combatting stress by practicing any of the above stress management techniques is not as easy as it appears. We may doubt whether a technique will even work for us. We may find it hard to relax or calm down enough to practice. We may find it difficult to sit still, counting the minutes until the end of the practice. We may be distracted by things happening around us or by our own thoughts about all of things we need to do by the end of the day. We may think we do not have enough time. These are all common challenges. The most important thing to remember is that managing stress is a skillset that must be repeatedly practiced in order to be effective and come naturally. It is also important to keep in mind that stress management techniques are not one-size-fits-all. What works for one person may not be effective for someone else, so ‘try out’ different stress management techniques to find which ones work best for you.

As professionals in the high-stress field of refugee resettlement, it would behoove us to remember the quote by Eleanor Brownn, “When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

 

References

Goldstein, E. (2018). The S.T.O.P. Practice for Stress. Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/the-s-t-o-p-practice-for-stress/

Roberts, F., Teague, B., Lee, J., & Rushworth, I. (2021). The prevalence of burnout and secondary traumatic stress in professionals and volunteers working with forcibly displaced people: a systematic review and two meta-analyses. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 34, 773-785. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.


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