15 Dec Steering Through Vicarious Trauma
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it, is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.” Rachel Naomi Remen
Screeching tires. Smell of burnt rubber. Windows breaking and metal crunching. These are sensory triggers that may remind us of traumatic events known as direct trauma experiences. We also can experience vicarious trauma – stress-related symptoms caused by indirect exposure to traumatic material. Vicarious trauma could be stories or experiences that our friends and families share such as a car accident, oppression, past abuse, a house fire, a medical condition or treatment.
When we are exposed indirectly to trauma, our minds can re-create the event as if it is our own, and we feel the pain, discomfort, and strong emotions. If exposed indirectly to trauma, ask yourself these questions:
Is my physical behavior different?
Do I have difficulty talking about my feelings?
Am I eating differently, losing sleep or sleeping too much?
Do things I used to like no longer bring enjoyment?
Do I have a sense of being unbalanced?
If the answer is yes, you may be experiencing vicarious trauma based on the way your body and mind are reacting to what you heard. If you have experienced vicarious trauma, self-care is important to help manage the overload. Self-care is about identifying your needs and taking steps to meet them, treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. It is taking time to nurture your mind, body and soul.
Self-care for your mind may include:
- Changing the way you make decisions: Decide something with your heart if you usually use your head, or vice versa.
- Unplugging for an hour: Switch everything to airplane mode and free yourself from the constant binges of social media and email.
- Doing one thing just because it makes you happy.
Self-care for your body may include:
- Giving your body ten minutes of mindful attention.
- Getting down – just dance!
- Inhaling an upbeat smell — try peppermint to suppress food cravings and boost your mood and motivation.
- Eating foods that can help you relieve stress and anxiety. Foods that can improve your mood include green leafy vegetables, turkey breast, yogurt, salmon and blueberries.
Lastly, self-care for your soul:
- Checking in with your emotions.
- Sitting quietly and without judgment just naming what you’re feeling.
- Writing out your thoughts then letting them go as you burn or shred the paper.
- If you like pets, try stroking a pet. If you don’t have one, go to the park and find one you can pet or volunteer at your local shelter.
When you get your balance back, you regain the control you may have lost. You become a better and healthier you. Embrace yourself. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.
Cassandra Royal, MA, LPC, CPCS, CCM, is the CHRIS 180 Clinical Director of the Fulton County Behavioral Health Program and can be reached at Cassandra.Royal@CHRIS180.org.