Dealing with Secondary Trauma
Working with people who are experiencing their own trauma can be difficult day in and day out. Right now, with the pain of a pandemic, as well as an intense political climate, people are experiencing even more personal trauma than normal. If you work in industries where you are trying to support people through difficult circumstances (medical professions, educators, mental health providers, etc.), you may be experiencing secondary traumatic stress.
What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?
Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another” (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network). STS can lead to burnout, physical illness, low job performance and morale, difficult concentrating and making decisions. It can also lead to a desire to leave your service-related field.
What Can You Do?
Self-care always tops the list as a way to mitigate STS. If you find it difficult to leave your work at work, try to stop at a park or trail on your way home to spend time in nature. Learning mindfulness or meditation can help you remain calm and in-the-moment throughout your day. Setting reminders on your phone to check in with yourself to focus on how you’re feeling, even if only for two minutes, and remember to take deep breaths, can help discharge stress throughout the day.
Check to see if your employer offers support groups, professional development, or mindfulness breaks throughout the day that you could participate in. If they don’t offer any of those, ask your Human Resources department to set something up. You are not alone in how you feel. There are probably many employees where you work that could benefit from those resources.
Remember to enjoy life where you can! Laughter and joy are natural healers and stress relievers. Encourage your co-workers to meet for a social distanced lunch together and talk about fun events that happened outside of work. Organize events that could bring laughter and stress relief to your work day. You are all in this together – remember to share both difficulties and joy.
Finally, reach out for help if your normal stress relieving activities and self care waver. Red flags include, difficulty sleeping, agitation and anxiety, loss of interest in engaging in usually enjoyable activities, social isolation, and increased use of substances to deal with stress. These are signs that the trauma of your work is overloading your brain. Mental health services are available to provide support and process your experiences. Our valued helpers, who give so much, are not immune to needing support and care.
Julie Lublin, MA LPC
Julie Lublin is licensed professional counselor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.