This week I tweeted my need for some TISM, or “Twitter Initiated Stress Management”. It was a tongue in cheek comment in reaction to the overwhelmingly sad news coming from Japan, yet had an element of truth that should not be ignored by those of us in the emergency response field.
It is now not only possible, but expected, that we get our information in real time, and have access to as much of it as possible. For those born since the late 80’s this is no big deal. For those of us born in the 50’s and 60’s who only recently climbed aboard the social media train we run the risk of TIS. What causes TIS? Here is my take:
Seductive connectivity – For me there is a subtle tension of feeling guilty for constantly communicating business related information with others (time suck) and feeling obligated to share expert opinion and information in my chosen field and interests. I was raised and educated in an environment where communication and engagement happened in focused blocks of time- in the classroom, meetings and phone calls. Now, it seems much harder to get anyone’s full attention. Many of us, especially our newer generation, are used to carrying on several conversations at the same time via smart phones, etc… I find myself reaching for my Blackberry in meetings all the time, hoping for the little blinking red light telling me I have an important message that has to be dealt with ASAP (almost always never the case). According to S. Craig Watkins in his book The Young & The Digital, this is known as “absence-in-presence”.
Unfiltered information – In the “good old days” (ten years ago), most of us still relied on major media markets for the news. Cable news networks expanded the reach and depth of reporting beyond the “big 3” – ABC, CBS, and NBC. But, the information still flowed through the restrictive nozzles of editors, reporters and timeslots. Obviously this is no longer the case. Now, information – much of it conflicting – comes at us from all sides, shapes and in different contexts. We become our own editor, forced to make decisions about the validity, value and context of the information we receive. This is a daunting task for those of us in the emergency response community who feel a self anointed obligation to share this information with others in an effort to inform and help during crisis situations. What compounds this stress is realizing when information you received and passed along through SM channels is wrong. The ease of the RT makes passing along wrong and/or outdated information much to easy.
Real Time – I’ve been in the emergency business for a while, having responded to and managed everything from public assist requests to large scale disasters. When you are “in the moment”, doing everything in trying to make a problem go away, stress isn’t really on your radar screen. Stress tends to be worse in emergency workers when they are prevented from doing what they are trained for, and /or prevented from doing so because the effort is futile (there are other factors as well). Now, we have remote access to real time information that attacks most of our senses (except touch and smell, and no doubt some technologist will figure that out) during a major crisis. Because we are who we are, we can’t help but to fully engage to find out what is going on and do what we can to pass along information that in some small way may immediately help. Yet, we can get frustrated with empathetic knowledge of what needs to be done, yet sit unable to act. I experienced this first hand watching the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion unfold last year.
So what can we do about it? We don’t have the “Jeffery Mitchell Model” of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) for TIS. Some simple things worth considering;
- Disconnect. I mean turn the damn phone off and leave it somewhere.
- Focus and be present in your actual, not virtual, world from time to time.
- Beware the RT when following developing emergency situations.
- If information seems “sketch”, don’t RT it. Wait for multi-source confirmation.
- Rely on your social media network of friends. Communicate feelings/opinions/observations back and forth. But, be careful to not state opinion as fact that will get RT’d and misinterpreted.
- Disengage and touch someone. When following intense unfolding situations, take a time out and talk….yes, with your mouth….. and yes, Skype counts.
- Finally, it is OK to simply read and watch. There is no obligation to engage and try to help. Tell yourself, “It’s not my emergency” ….shameless plug for my blog here….