Vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout...
Any of these ring a bell?
You've been to countless professional trainings and meetings on the topic. The recommendation? Self-care. Do things that make you happy. Spend time with your loved ones, go for a walk outside, eat a healthy meal, take that long awaited vacation...
It's not feeling that easy anymore though. The lens in which you view the world is becoming tainted and the balance and fulfillment you once experienced in life no longer exists. You find yourself becoming more cynical and fearful. You feel vulnerable and exposed after each call or patient, worrying about the potential dangers in the world and your loved ones' safety.
"It comes with the job," you tell yourself. "I'm not going to let this get to me."
It slowly is though. You're distracted and disconnected. Your body aches in new ways. You've begun to ponder the meaning of life, in a non-inspirational way. The future no longer excites you. And the nightly glass of wine has turned into a bottle of wine after work- which sometimes accompanies you to the shower for your one good cry per week.
At the end of the day whether you call it vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, compassion fatigue or burnout, indirect exposure to traumatic events and stories, often entailing the suffering of others, impacts us as individuals and as professionals.
Helpers deserve help too.
When a threat is perceived in our environment, our brain and body mobilizes a neurophysiological response to effectively survive or navigate the situation. This response is commonly known as fight, flight, or freeze.
If we don't get the chance to fight, flee, or release this aroused state, our body-mind system remains activated, creating an internal self-perpetuating feedback loop that informs us we are still in danger. This nervous system response can get triggered when we witness or hear stories of trauma.
EMDR, a recommended trauma therapy by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), has been shown to successfully reduce symptoms of PTSD and vicarious trauma by allowing the brain to process the experience(s) and the body to release the stored energy of the trauma.
Traumatic events produce exhaustion on many levels, emotionally, physiologically, and cognitively. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur when one has a difficult time recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Triggers can bring back memories of the event, accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions.
Anxiety is characterized by persistent and excessive worry around a number of different things. While it's normal to feel anxious from time to time, excessive, ongoing anxiety is much more difficult to live with. Such anxiety and worry is difficult to control and can interfere with one's day to day activities.
Also known as compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma affects a broad range of health care providers and first responders. Vicarious trauma can occur when one is continually exposed to extreme emotional circumstances, either directly or indirectly, in an attempt to treat or support one who has experienced trauma.
Being the first to arrive to events involving injuries or loss of life and/or providing emotional support to clients after a crisis has an impact on the person responding. The expectation that one can be regularly surrounded by loss and suffering and not be effected by it is as unrealistic as expecting to walk through water and not get your feet wet.
When you're ready to give yourself the same care and compassion you so warmly give to others, I invite you to schedule your free consultation at my Santa Clarita, CA office below.