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Dr. Diana Concannon: “Engage in self-care”

It must first begin by ensuring that we are taking care of ourselves. “Engage in self-care” is one of the easiest admonishments to utter, and one of the hardest to follow — particularly for those on the front line who are more accustomed to giving to others. The prolonged nature of the current crises renders […]

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It must first begin by ensuring that we are taking care of ourselves. “Engage in self-care” is one of the easiest admonishments to utter, and one of the hardest to follow — particularly for those on the front line who are more accustomed to giving to others. The prolonged nature of the current crises renders it vital that we maintain resilience, which is accomplished by providing ourselves with opportunities to reset mind, heart, and body. Whether taking time to listen to music, be in nature, exercise, meditating, and connect with friends, read, or engaging in any activity that soothes — a regular self-care regimen ensures that we can be available and effective when anxiety seizes those around us.


As a part of my series about the the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Diana Concannon, licensed psychologist and crisis response expert and Dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University.

Dr. Diana Concannon is a PsyD, Dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University and licensed psychologist with a background in disaster and emergency response. She has previous experience in training first responders and health care workers in psychological first aid and crisis mental health.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Mylifelong interest in psychology and law brought me to the field of forensic psychology. When I was in graduate school, my sole interest was in working with offenders, and I focused on acquiring the competencies necessary to conduct risk assessments and civil investigations. I was quite adamant that I did not want to work with those who had been affected by these individuals, those who had experienced the trauma and pain offenders so often cause. After I started practicing, I was frequently asked to train law enforcement and emergency responder communities on offender-victim dynamics. These dedicated professionals were seeking insight to better support those in crisis. Through their perspectives, I gained a more mature understanding of the ways in which trauma and crisis intervention relates to my professional priority of preventing conflict and violence. Since the majority of offenders with whom I have worked have also suffered trauma, the simplistic offender-victim divide I held in graduate school faded, and my work with each population has been elevated by working with the other.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Forensic psychology is a particularly fascinating field, and I have had the privilege to engage in many memorable cases and investigations. The most interesting moments for me, however, are the ones that reveal fundamental truths about what connect us to each other. One example I can share is when I was training a group of security and emergency department personnel on disaster planning and response at a Los Angeles hospital. This was several years after the 9–11 terrorist attack and, as an illustration of the cultural differences that can be exhibited in the aftermath of a crisis incident; I shared my experience of being a native New Yorker who was living in LA during 9–11. My initial response was so much more amplified than the non-New Yorkers who surrounded me. I had greater context as to the magnitude of the event simply by virtue of having lived and worked near the iconic Twin Towers. During a break in the training, an ER nurse came up to me, shaking and crying. She told me that she too was an ex-New Yorker and had been working shift during the 9–11 attacks. She expressed how devastated she had felt, and that the most difficult aspect of the experience was watching those around her continue to work during the initial hours following the event. She said that she felt pressured to do likewise and had believed herself to be less capable because internally she was terrified by what was transpiring. My sharing my experience, she said, caused her to shift her perspective and release some of the guilt and shame that she was holding. For me, her sharing was an extraordinary gift, and a reminder of the power of connecting around our pain.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Two qualities that I have come to treasure are patience and presence. In this historic and incredibly demanding time, I have seen thriving redefined. Extensive “to do” lists are more difficult to accomplish when the most basic activities of daily living take more time as we don masks, wait in carefully-spaced lines, and practice good hand hygiene after every encounter. This alone requires greater patience. It also affords opportunities to be more present — which are also important for personal safety. Occupying the present supports the self-reflection that connects us to meaning and purpose, enabling us to be more mindful about where and how we spend future moments. This is the essence of thriving — and one of the most powerful ways to mitigate burnout, along with the companion syndromes of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Listen. Be compassionate. Collaborate to innovate solutions. The profound challenges of the current dual pandemics of, COVID-19 and institutional racism, demand that we alter many aspects of our world, including our workplaces. Even the most talented leaders do not hold the solutions to the issues we face. We must engage collectively. Listening must occur at deeper levels, and environments must be safe for difficult dialogues so that we can liberate the fantastic and meaningful work cultures we seek for ourselves and those we support, while advancing our contributions to the world.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are hundreds! I’ll narrow it to Jean Paul Satre’s Roads to Freedom Trilogy and Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I read the former as an undergraduate, sitting on the floor between the stacks in NYU’s Bobst Library. It was one of those experiences during which time faded away. For the first time, I began to understand the philosophy and psychology of existentialism, with which I deeply align for its empowerment of individuals to create meaning and purpose in life. Kuhn’s work — with its focus on the evolving nature of scientific paradigms — reminds me of the importance of remaining curious and humble as a scientist.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Anxiety is a common experience for many during this time of incredible uncertainty, and it is admirable and essential to support those around us.

It must first begin by ensuring that we are taking care of ourselves. “Engage in self-care” is one of the easiest admonishments to utter, and one of the hardest to follow — particularly for those on the front line who are more accustomed to giving to others. The prolonged nature of the current crises renders it vital that we maintain resilience, which is accomplished by providing ourselves with opportunities to reset mind, heart, and body. Whether taking time to listen to music, be in nature, exercise, meditating, and connect with friends, read, or engaging in any activity that soothes — a regular self-care regimen ensures that we can be available and effective when anxiety seizes those around us.

Once fortified in our resilience, we can engage in the deep listening that supports those who feel anxious. Anxiety is primitive and irrational and has the power to anchor in both past traumas and future fears. Allowing an individual who is suffering anxiety to articulate their experience — without seeking to minimize or problem-solve — has a powerfully healing effect. Many of the anxieties that are arising now relate to health, finances, travel, or sociopolitical issues and are normal reactions to the time in which we are living. Affirming this can help those suffering anxiety to break the all too common cycle of attempting to cognitively wrestle it away, which generally causes it to increase instead.

Beyond listening, we help by educating on the linkage between self-care and resilience — another reason to practice self-care ourselves so we can model the efficacy of this connection. Helping those around us to discover the activities they find to be most supportive of their health and well-being, and that help them to connect to their inner peace and strength, can mitigate feelings of anxiousness as well as prevent future anxiety.

Connecting or reconnecting with what is meaningful is also a powerful salve to anxiety. Being present with what matters is metaphorically equivalent to taking a deep breath, which dissipates anxiety.

Finally, if with an individual whose anxiety is profound or chronic, it is important to support them to seek professional mental or behavioral health assistance. There are times when support from someone who is trained and who is outside our inner circle provides new insights and ways of looking at the world. Individuals who are significantly impacted by anxiety certainly deserve this support.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

I always start with the resources to which we have ready access. Using one’s own mind to acknowledge the anxiety and accept that it is an understandable response to the current uncertainty often helps to soften it. Spending time in nature — if safe to do so — elevates mood and helps with anxiety management. During this time, a myriad of practitioners has made resources available virtually — from yoga classes, to guided meditations, to sleep hygiene guidance. Many of these resources are available at no cost or for donation. And, of course, should feelings of anxiety persist or reach levels that impede quality of life or functioning, there are a legion of mental and behavioral health professionals who have made themselves available via telehealth and who can be accessed through private insurance, employee or student assistance programs, or through web searches.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My most frequent “go to” quotes are from the French Catholic Philosopher Antonin Sertillanges — “Courage is sustained by calling up anew the vision of the goal” and Canadian writer Basil King — “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” My mother once made a throw-away comment to a man I was dating, informing him, “My daughter experiences great fear, but she just does things anyway.” I was struck by how insightful this was. The quotes remind me of the galvanizing power of courage. I witness and am inspired by this courage in the many essential workers who are keeping our society functioning as we work through our present challenges.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to get a Words Matter movement going. In so many contexts — in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the racism pandemic, our political discourse, global relations — the impact

of words to affect deep healing and to inflict severe harm is evident. We need to wake up to the power of words, and to relentlessly fight for a common language that demands a healthier, more connected, and more just world.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Given the nature of the work that I do, I’ve purposefully limited my online profile. I didn’t even have a LinkedIn account until a few years ago. Most recently, I opened an Instagram account, @diana.concannon, which I intend to populate very soon!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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