It's normal and expected to feel a range of strong emotions and reactions when you've experienced, or been exposed to, occupational violence and aggression (OVA) in your workplace. Here are some strategies to help you recover and cope with distress after an incident of OVA.
You can use helpful self-talk to cope with difficult situations. Plan ahead for stressful events by coming up with self-talk that helps you to accept and tolerate what is happening (for example, 'It's OK to feel angry', or 'Expressing my feelings will help'). In moments of distress, try to remember your helpful self-talk (for example, 'I can cope with this', 'It won't last forever' or 'I'm doing the best I can.') Write your favourite helpful self-talk statements on your phone, or on a card that you can keep in your pocket, wallet or purse. Here are some examples of helpful self-talk.
Preparing for a stressful situation
- I can work out a plan to handle this.
- This may upset me a little, but I can cope with it.
- Negative self-talk is unhelpful; focus on thinking rationally.
- Take a few breaths and try to relax.
Confronting stressful situations
- I can meet this challenge.
- Focus on taking things one step at a time.
- I need to concentrate on what I have to do, without adding frightening thoughts about what I think might happen.
- This anxiety is OK; I can cope with it.
- Take a slow normal breath. I’m in control.
- Things are going well; I'm handling it OK.
Coping with feelings in the situation
- Take a few breaths and slow things down.
- There's no hurry; I can take the time to think and plan what I have to do.
- I should expect some anxiety, but I can handle it.
- I don’t need to try to get rid of my feelings totally, I just need to be aware of them and keep them manageable.
- I'm still in control; things are going OK.
Reflecting on the experience
- It was a difficult situation; I handled it as well as could be expected.
- OK, I could have handled it better, but it's not the end of the world. I’ll get another opportunity to practise and improve my skills.
- I did it! I'm getting better all the time.
- It wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected.
John's helpful self-talk
John was dreading going back to work after being assaulted by a patient. Listen to how he used helpful self-talk to control his anxiety on that first day back.
The way we feel is affected by the way we breathe. Use your breathing to manage your feelings of fear and anxiety. Practise controlled breathing when you are calm, so you can readily use this skill when you are under stress or when you feel overwhelmed.
Take a normal breath in and breathe out slowly
When you are upset, anxious or frightened you may breathe rapidly and shallowly. Try controlling your breathing by taking a normal breath (not a deep breath) and then breathe slowly. Breathing out is associated with relaxation.
While concentrating on a long, slow exhalation, say words like 'calm' or 'relax' to help guide you through your breathing.
Slow your breathing down
When you are frightened or upset you may start to breathe faster. This is a natural reaction that prepares your body to fight the threat or to run away. If you are not going to fight or run away, however, you may be taking in too much air and start to over-breathe or 'hyperventilate'.
You need to slow down your breathing so you are taking in less air. Try counting to control your breath. If this doesn't work for you, try breathing in slowly then breathing out for slightly longer.
Sharni – controlled breathing
After being verbally abused by a patient, Sharni started feeling panicky in all kinds of situations. Listen to how she used controlled breathing to manage her stress and anxiety.
Planning positive activities
Take care of yourself during times of increased stress by doing a variety of enjoyable and satisfying activities on a regular basis.
The following questions will help you to identify activities that you enjoy and think about how much space and time you allow for them. Reflect on whether your answers are different since your experience of OVA.
- Do you have regular routines that help you feel good? What are they?
- Do you devote enough time to relationships and activities that you enjoy? Which ones?
- Do you take regular rests from work – breaks during the day and holidays?
- Do you tend to over-commit and never say 'no'?
- Are you making time for things that you value?
Make a conscious effort to create time for positive activities. Extended breaks or holidays are important to for taking care of yourself, but the most powerful activities are those you can do regularly and in a short amount of time. Start by identifying one fun or pleasant activity (such as having a hot bath), and one activity that gives you a sense of accomplishment or pride (for example, exercise).
Laura just couldn't get back on track after being assaulted by one of the residents in her aged care service. Listen to how she used enjoyable activities to get herself into a positive routine again.
Staying connected with others
Being socially connected and supported is one of the most powerful predictors of a positive outcome following exposure to trauma. You can stay connected to others in lots of different ways, and it doesn't have to involve talking about what happened. While it may be important for you to talk about your experiences with a close friend, loved one or professional, you should never feel pressured to do so.
Use the questions below to think about how you stay connected with others, including people at work, your friends and family.
- Who do you enjoy doing hobbies, sports or other activities with?
- Who can you get practical support from?
- Who do you find it easy to share your thoughts and feelings with?
Take a moment to reflect on the kinds of support you need right now, and any opportunities you may have to connect with others.
Samir – staying connected
As an emergency nurse, Samir regularly deals with people who display challenging behaviours. But for some reason, this one incident of verbal abuse really shook him up. Listen to how Samir's workmates, manager and family supported him to talk it through and feel better.
Ten tips for coping after an incident of occupational violence and aggression
Here are a few strategies you can use to cope with distress after an incident of occupational violence and help you recover as soon as possible.
Reviewed 22 November 2021