Welcome to halfway through June! This month is National Professional Wellness month. As a trauma-informed company, part of what we uphold for each other and what we offer to the community is support around mental health. As we know, wellness isn’t only physical health, but emotional, spiritual, and social as well.
This is particularly the case for those in the helping professions. For social workers, counselors, teachers, and law enforcement professionals we become concerned about burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. Despite the reminders to put on your oxygen mask before assisting others, helpers can struggle to take their own advice.
Compassion fatigue is exactly as it sounds- one becomes tired of caring so much. Those who identify as “empaths” or “sensitive” can often attest to this feeling. When you are someone’s “go-to person” or sounding board, you are expected to hold another person’s grief, sorrow, anger, or pain. When this occurs fairly regularly it can be exhausting. I like to use the metaphor of a cup. We start each day with a full cup of emotional energy. We need some of that for ourselves (hopefully) and then the remainder is provided for loved ones, stressors throughout the day, and our clients at work. The cup can be replenished through self-care, but sometimes the helpers aren’t good at helping themselves first. The result is a depleted cup, until one day, you start the day without a full store of energy to give. This is compassion fatigue. Warning signs include becoming “jaded” to what you’re hearing, a feeling of numbness or not caring, depression, or dreading going into work.
Burnout can be a result of the above, but also caused by experiences common in the helping professions. This could be bureaucratic red tape, feeling powerlessness in the position that you’re in, feeling that your workload is too large for the number of hours you’re provided, etc. Burnout is a partial reason we see such high turnover in case manager positions (i.e., social services, nonprofits, community mental health, etc.). Burnout can be prevented as well, through self-care and implementing trauma-informed practices for staff.
Vicarious trauma- or secondary trauma- is a more severe aspect of the above. In the helping professions, we witness or hear things that the average person may not experience. Physicians see death and pain. Social workers witness trauma. Firefighters and other first responders witness disasters and casualties. There are times that those experiences cause you, the helper, your own experience of helplessness, fear, and horror. This may even be in spite of performing your job duties adequately. Just as we encourage those who we help to attain counseling, treatment, and medical care- so should we.
If any of these issues are resonating with you or if you would like to be proactive about burnout, compassion fatigue, and trauma, Ancora Counseling provides one-on-one therapy, clinical supervision, as well as professional training for you and your staff.
Here’s some easy suggestions you can implement to take care of yourself at work:
-Do the stuff your doctor nags you about: Decent diet, exercise, and get enough sleep.
-Take breaks and take your lunch. Bonus points if you can step away from your desk to eat.
-Engage in hobbies. Hike, garden, bake, binge-watch television. Whatever brings you joy or helps you de-stress.
-Manage your workspace: Add photos, artwork, or plants. Declutter. File your filing instead of relying on your “organized piles” system.
-Talk to coworkers or supervisors. Process what you’re going through with people who get it. If there’s one person who is also sick of filing out form 1948B9(e), it’s probably the person sitting next to you.
Please take care of yourselves and be well.