- Maya Angelou
The truth is that we are all doing this work, and it comes at a price. We are human, and the stories we hear leave an imprint on us as well. This can be accumulative, and result in something called Vicarious Trauma, or Secondary Stress. Today’s blog post will focus on how we can recognize and mitigate the impact of secondary trauma. This is part of high quality trauma work! We must help the helpers, and guess what: you’re the helpers!
Signs of Vicarious/Secondary trauma include: feeling irreplaceable, powerless, anxious or impatient. Experiencing headaches, sleep disturbances, hypervigilance. Missing work, isolating from friends, difficulty concentrating, loss of hope. Listen to your colleagues or loved ones if they notice changes in your demeanor; it can be hard to recognize this in ourselves.
So what can you do if you notice signs of stress that are impacting your ability to attend to your work of caring for others? Self care is a key piece of the puzzle here, and your supervisors can help with this too. We are always looking for ways to create and improve a trauma-informed system of care, and need you to share what works for you so we can continue to develop our innovative practices in a way that is sustainable for everyone involved.
The importance of practicing self care -- right now! We can't always wait for that vacation time in 4 months, or the upcoming honeymoon to Aruba, or even the end of the day to catch a breath, take a step back, assess and reassess your difficult or triggered feelings. Self care may need to be conjured or practiced in the Very Moment. The moment you are aware of an imbalance in your best self. An important choice rests on your shoulders. What can be a brief practice of self-care that can shift the balance and reduce anxiety, stress and burnout or even subvert vicarious trauma? Consider incorporating one or more of these practices -- or re-incorporating if they fell off your radar. Time to reboot?
- Mindful breath- this is a nice one, you can do it at work. Pay attention to your breath and body, tune out the rest of the world and allow yourself a few full breaths to re-set and ground. Do it between classes, in your car, after a session. Notice how you’re holding your body, just notice.
- Connect with your creativity - combat the rigidity that comes with stress and secondary trauma; open yourself up to possibility and flow by engaging in an activity that taps into your creative self. write, read, draw, dance, sing, play, juggle.
- Build in joy - friends? movies? weekend trips? floor time with your puppy? What takes you away from work life and balances your sense of self? Laughter is a good one. Can you take a moment in your day to connect with a co-worker to share something funny or joyful? Eat lunch outside?
- Get exercise -shake it up,sweat it out. This is a great way to shift your thinking patterns and literally move energy through your body. If you feel “stuck” at work, can you go for a short walk?
- Make a daily practice - sleep, eat well, meditate or pray. Find routines that make sense for you and that encourage balance and wellness.
- Find an accountability partner - we can encourage one another to practice balance and self-care, and motivate one another when we model it. It’s win-win.
Emily Marsh, Director of Clinical Intervention Services