Psychological first aid—Learning to help others by helping ourselvesA year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable that many of us feel fatigued and distraught in the face of rising cases and death tolls. At the same time, we hear of people talking about pandemic fatigue, leading to general exhaustion and anxiety because there is so much change and unpredictability in their lives.
Many of our kapamilya reported increased mental and psychological stress, putting a strain on their work-life balance and even on their relationships with their loved ones.
In response, the Lopez Group HR Council, the Health and Wellness Cluster, and Halcyon Mental Health worked together to offer free psychological first aid (PFA) to Lopez kapamilya.
PFA is training that teaches and equips participants to do what is necessary in times of crises. Typically, it is provided as training for volunteers who are deployed to disaster areas to help communities cope with their experiences. But in light of the pandemic, the Health and Wellness Cluster decided that PFA can teach the same skills to employees trying to grapple with the current health crisis and how it has changed their lives.
According to Halcyon Mental Health founder, managing director and lead psychotherapist Zenia Panahon, “if lagi na kayong galit at hindi ka naman dating ganoon, o lagi kayong takot at walang laman ang isip nyo kung hindi pag-aalala, ibig sabihin meron kayong mental health issues and you need support.” She further explained: “These are normal in times like this. It is a matter of seeking help.”
Designed as a three-part learning sessions, it was separated into three-hour webinars held on March 6, 13 and 20. It was structured to help participants understand and regulate their emotional and psychological states to help them determine their capacity to help others. Some 200 kapamilya from various Lopez Group companies participated in the sessions.
Self-care and knowing your priorities
The first webinar on March 6 focused on emotional dysregulation, which refers to the inability of a person to control their emotional responses to a situation. Many things can cause dysregulation, including physical or emotional trauma, tragedy or an ongoing crisis. To cope with dysregulation, Halcyon facilitators highlighted the link between the physical action and emotional reaction. They taught simple breathing exercises that could help calm one’s mind and body.
While we know that stress is a normal part of life, it is also equally important to know how to manage it and regulate the emotions that come with it. That is why it is important to see the value of self-care and knowing your priorities.
One key takeaway is that when you aren’t able to spend time doing things that you consider as priorities in your life, you are more likely to feel stressed, upset or dysregulated. Self-care isn’t just about massages and meditation, it can be about engaging in a hobby you like, spending time with a loved one or even taking time to exercise.
Mindfulness and boundary-setting
The second webinar on March 13 focused on mindfulness and boundary setting. Participants filled up an activity sheet to help them understand their energy levels at different times of the day so that they can understand how they feel and organize their workdays better.
For instance, if you know you do your best creative work in the mornings, then do brainstorming during this time. You can leave the daily inbox purge for after lunch, when your brain is winding down after a meal.
An item that Halcyon highlighted is that multitasking is not good for one’s mental health because it is simply overwhelming to our brains. Instead, practice mindfulness by focusing on one task at a time so you feel in control instead of pulled from every direction. That is why it is important to learn to set boundaries when it comes to what you spend your time or energy on. Saying no isn’t about missing out or not being supportive of a friend asking for a favor or a colleague asking you to join a project—it is about understanding what you are capable of giving your full attention to, and what is important to you.
Focusing on what you can control
The third and last webinar on March 20 included an activity that allowed the participants to figure out what is on their plate and which among these are the things they actually have control over. By breaking down where your actions can affect the biggest change, you can channel your energy to where you can have most impact instead of feeling stuck and powerless.
For instance, we have no control over what COVID-19 variants are out there, but we have some control over how vigilant we are about wearing a mask and face shield, and a lot of control over how much time we spend on our phones scrolling for news and how much time with we spend with our families. By focusing on what we can control, we can see progress and gain confidence over time.
The last activity, role playing, was designed to help participants apply what they learned during the three webinars in sample scenarios they might encounter as a “PFAider.” Each scenario allowed participants to use their senses to observe the behavior of the person they are talking to, to actively listen to what they are saying, and to be able to spot the opportunities that lie within the situations.
What was clear from each scenario was that a PFAider isn’t meant to provide solutions to the people they are helping. Instead, they are there to be present and empathetic listeners who understand that every person’s situation is unique and to help them see opportunities to grow so that they can figure out what solution is right for them.
For the participants, as budding PFAiders, the learning session was an opportunity to learn and realize things about themselves.
Andrea from TG Services Inc. shared: “I’ve learned plenty from the webinar. As an aspiring psychologist, it encouraged me to pursue my passion. It helped me in terms of learning different coping mechanisms to regulate my mental health. It also encouraged me to improve myself so that I can also help the people around me.”
Health and Wellness Cluster head Ernie Lopez said: “My dream is for every Filipino to have their own small groups, a small group of two to three people they can talk to about what’s going on in their lives or pray with, and just feel like they are heard.”
With the PFA, he hoped that it can start among Lopez Group kapamilya. His own experience taught him how mental health can affect one’s life and how reaching out for help can be key to handling the challenges our “new normal” life brings us.
Halcyon Mental Health’s Panahon explained that psychotherapy services are not always reachable due to the limited number of practitioners in the country and the amount involved to avail of such services.
“Giving the PFA training to as many as possible within your group will help each one assess whether this training is already enough for them or they will need further services.”
PFA is a step in the right direction, a way to destigmatize asking for mental health support, and to recognize that everyone can use these skills to help themselves and be better equipped to help friends and loved ones who may need support. As the old saying goes: “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” PFA helps you to fill your cup so that PFAiders are grounded and feel safe, and are then able to go out, listen and be exposed to the experiences of others.
By the end of the third webinar, 24 out of 33 participants had expressed interest in taking the additional training to become bona fide PFAiders who are ready to be deployed to communities that need help.
Mercedes Lopez-Vargas, Lopez Group Foundation Inc. president and executive director, said: “It is truly timely and much needed that our Health and Wellness Cluster, together with Halcyon Mental Health, opted to conduct a collaborative project of psychological first aid aimed at addressing ways to take care of ourselves, so that we can ultimately take care and reach out to all those around us.”
Some of the dozens of Lopez Group employees who took part in the PFA webinars
A member of the Halcyon team in action in the community