What an exciting day you’ve had! It has been one of those days that kept you running from crisis to crisis. Your adrenaline valve wide open, you’re operating on a combination of energy drinks and determination to save the world! Each averted crisis fuels you on to the next until the waves of urgency subside and the calm of routine appears as suddenly as it disappeared hours before. Triumphantly you glance at your watch, acutely aware of the gnawing rumble of hunger in your belly.
It’s 7pm. Where did lunchtime go?
So, you gather your coat, purse, and briefcase and head to the parking lot. You note there are other cars still missing their drivers, and you wonder what urgency has tied them up.
On your drive home, you go through a fast food drive up, knowing you will regret it later but telling yourself you deserve it after your day. Chewing a double meat burger while unconsciously adding fries to an already full mouth, you relax as the monster in your stomach quiets… for now. So hungry are you that the meal is consumed before you make it home.
You arrive home to a rambunctious dog who has been cooped up all day waiting for you. Feeding and walking her takes presidency now. After all, taking care of others first seems to be your tagline.
Finally, it’s your time. A hot shower is next. The steaming fingers of water , set to full force, knead your back and neck, untangling knots. You sigh as the muscles loosen and relax.
A little mindless Netflix and you are ready for bed. The soft cotton sheets welcome you to let go and slip into their comforting embrace. Classical music playing from Pandora, is so soft that it is almost dreamlike. You close your eyes and slowly prepare for sleep.
Your brain, on autopilot since leaving work kicks into high velocity.
Every move, every situation, every decision you made is replayed. Pictures play like a film in your mind. The faces of the children you helped today. The reality of their trauma becomes real in your mind. Rewinding again, you pray you made the right decisions.
Sleep is not your friend.
But the indigestion born of hastily eaten fast food becomes your steadfast companion as you watch the electronic clock numbers slowly change…12:30…31,32,33.
Has this been you?
So many times this was me.
If you are in the service field and this has happened to you; you are not alone.
Secondary post traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma are all names given to this phenomenon. You take in trauma from those that you serve every day. Some of it lingers in your brain like a hidden secret. The effects of that secondary or vicarious trauma can manifest in sleep deprivation, eating issues, relationship difficulties and even physical ailments.
So why do you keep doing this job?
Social work is not for the faint of heart to be sure. It is the career for the strong of heart and for those who are called to make a difference in the lives of hurting people. Those who remain in the career tend to see the job more as a calling than a job.
But what about the vicarious trauma?
Unfortunately, the job will not change. As long as hurt people hurt people, social workers will step in the middle to affect change.
The only control you have as a social worker is to develop your plan of safe care. Below are some ideas.
1. Find a support group: develop supportive friendships with colleagues and practice sharing with and supporting each other routinely. Part of the fallout from vicarious trauma comes from ignoring it and keeping it bottled up inside. By talking with someone who has been there and understands, you can process through it better.
2. Drink lots of water. Drinking sugary and caffeinated beverages all day wreak havoc with your glucose levels and can cause you to be more jittery and anxious. High sugar drinks can also zap your energy.
3. Take a long walk. Processing stressful things can be achieved more efficiently by walking. Walking energizes both sides of your brain and helps you to work through problems and situations so they dont bottleneck in your brain.
4. Find something you like to do…and do it. Whether it is a sport, knitting, writing a blog, gardening…if it brings you joy, do it. Too many times we go home and allow the weight of the day to cement us to the couch and convince us we dont have the energy to do anything.
In other words, you are going to have these days. That is a promise. It’s the sacrifice you make when you choose to take on the burden of others.
Building up your support and your strength now will prepare you to handle these days when they come. By processing the events and feelings before you go to bed, you will have less issues falling asleep. And sleep is the biggest battery recharge there is…when it when it all comes crashing in.