Blog / Workplace Wellbeing

January 13, 2021

Managing the Mental Toll of the Capitol Riot

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Workplace Wellbeing

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When a traumatic event happens—such as the insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6—we sometimes are too consumed by the need to survive what is happening that we don’t sufficiently process our emotions until much later. You may have seen rioters violently breach the Capitol on live television after being encouraged to do so by President Trump, but perhaps you did not feel the full weight of their actions until hours or days later. Or, you may have been traumatized in the moment and been unable to think of much else since.

For HR professionals, managing this shock and horror is a real and present challenge. How can we heal ourselves and our teams during such a historically difficult time?

Step one: Turn off your notifications and start tuning into yourself

According to Dr. Millard Brown, Spring Health’s senior vice president of medical affairs, limiting exposure to news events that are negatively impacting your wellbeing is crucial. While it’s an understandable impulse to be glued to news updates right now, constant stress ultimately does more harm than good. 

“Attempt to step away from the immediate intensity and notice your emotions, thoughts, and body reaction to intense events,” Millard recommends. “Emphasize personal grounding to reset yourself. Take breaks, redirect attention to less intense, more enjoyable situations, increase exercise, including 5-10 minute meditation or mindfulness exercises, and listen to or play music.”

Interrupting upsetting thought patterns is an underlying tenet of therapy. In this age of ceaseless updates, shifting to enjoyable activities helps staunch the flow of toxicity, and restores a healthy sense of personal balance. 

Step two: Be prepared to confront the past

For many, the tragic events at the Capitol can remind them of past traumas. Many Americans who participated in Black Lives Matter events last year to fight racial injustice may feel doubly enraged by the fact that a noose and confederate flag were brought into the Capitol. Others may  feel brutalized afresh by the violence and rage of the insurrectionists. Another colleague may have purposefully immigrated to the U.S. to escape a country where attempted government coups were common, making them feel that their attempt to leave behind destructive chaos was a failure. Still others may be triggered by the overall horror of the event, causing deeply buried emotions to resurface. 

Quite simply, it’s not all about the immediate moment, but rather what else the trauma reminds a person about their past. For HR professionals, it’s important to be compassionate about how present events can bring back unexamined feelings about past hurts and fears. 

For those team members who find themselves overwhelmed with traumatized feelings, it’s important to be patient and receptive. If your coworker is speaking about events that don’t seem directly connected to the Capitol siege, don’t force them to stick to the topic. Be a good listener instead.

Step three: Seek increased contact with those you love and trust

Dr. Millard encourages those suffering from the aftermath of the Capitol siege to connect with trusted, loved people in their lives. These can be family members, friends, colleagues, mentors, or others who have a track record of being supportive and understanding. 

Those who are physically self-isolating due to the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic should not also emotionally isolate themselves. Phone calls, video teleconferencing calls, texts, and instant messages are a safe way to connect with loved ones. 

Read more: Relationship management during COVID-19

HR professionals can also help prevent their team members from feeling alone by checking in regularly and asking how everyone is coping. These check-ins should take a friendly tone, and make it clear that feeling frightened, hurt, or angered by the Capitol breach is a healthy, normal response. This event is virtually unprecedented in American history; it also comes after an exceptionally difficult year. Many people may already be worn down by months of feeling frightened and constrained.

However, HR professionals should also emphasize that professional help is available to anyone who wants it. No one should feel that they must struggle alone with trauma. 

Step four: Find the right mental health provider

By definition, traumatic events are often unpredictable and deeply upsetting. To quickly and effectively address the emotional fallout from such events, employees need to be able to access the mental health support they need quickly and easily. 

Make sure your mental healthcare plan gives your team members the tools they need to conveniently book timely appointments with therapists and psychiatrists, get personalized help navigating emergency services if necessary, and access wellness tools on-the-go through phone apps. Having an excellent mental health plan in place is the best way to mitigate the effects of devastation among you and your workforce, whether the emotional and mental fallout occurs today, tomorrow, or weeks into the future. 

Step five: Speak out against acts of violence and injustice

As an HR professional, you’re in an excellent position to collaborate with your leadership team to craft an organizational statement addressing the Capitol siege. For example, here is the statement that Spring Health’s CEO April Koh shared both within the company and with the public in the days following the event:

Spring Health CEO April Koh statement on Capitol siege

You may already have members of your organization asking if leadership will be making a formal statement. Listen to these concerns, and address them head-on with your employees, clients, and broader community. 

Even if your organization hasn’t yet released a statement, it is not too late to do so. Although a timely reaction is preferable, many employees will appreciate leadership’s taking a stance on this horrific event even if the official response requires a few weeks to craft.

Spring Health stands firmly against acts of violence and attacks on our democracy. We are taking strong action to support all members of our community who may be experiencing the mental and emotional fallout from the recent Capitol siege. 

With our comprehensive network of physicians, therapists, and scientific advisors, Spring Health offers our members customized, data-driven tools for healing. Our years of experience enable us to help employees from all walks of life find the treatment that is precisely right for them. Whether an employee would benefit from a mindfulness session, a self-assessment test, or a clinical visit, we can rapidly recommend a course of treatment and start them on the road to recovery. To find out how we can help you and your team, please request a demo

About the Author

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Spring Health

Spring Health is making mental health fundamental by eliminating every barrier to care. Our comprehensive digital platform provides employers and health plans with diverse, inclusive care for individuals and families.