May is Mental Health Awareness Month – Vicarious Trauma

By Misty Stewart, formerly of NCEDSV

I would like to take the time to acknowledge some of the vicarious trauma advocates experience every day. Vicarious trauma is when we encounter someone else’s trauma by hearing it, seeing it, reading about it, and watching it. Day in and out, advocates hear about others’ trauma. When Vicarious (secondary) trauma kicks in, our brain can’t tell if it’s our trauma or someone else’s. The brain doesn’t know the difference between vicarious and first-hand trauma. Our brain takes particular things in and does its best to protect ourselves under any circumstance.

These are things that you might experience if you have been vicariously traumatized. Again, you saw someone else’s trauma, which impacted you, particularly if you said to yourself, “this should not be affecting me — I wasn’t really involved,” but you were involved, you have been exposed to trauma over and over through other peoples’ lenses.

Below are some symptoms indicating you may be experiencing Secondary Trauma:

  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Fatigue/aches and pains
  • Sleep disruption/difficulty
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss/decreased libido Signs and Symptoms

There may be a number of these signs and symptoms that occur daily. One at a time, or in clusters, they may not necessarily indicate that it is traumatic stress or vicarious trauma, but it is essential to pay attention to them and to what your body is trying to tell you.

The first step is to admit that there are probably some symptoms on this list that we experience in the role as advocates. We may realize those that stick around longer than they should or last several days. When this happens, we may realize we need additional help. Asking for help is courageous! We are helpers, and it’s essential to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first! You are worth it.

Below are some stress-relieving techniques for us to practice daily!

Nutrition: What we put in our bodies matters. Eat for protection and recovery. Cut down on processed food. Drink lots of water.

Sleep: Limiting screen time before bed, having the room dark and cool, Consistent bedtime/wake time

Movement: Exercise, walk around at least once an hour, learn to “Shake it off,” try yoga or Tai chi

Helpful Apps:

  • Insight Timer
  • Noisli
  • Pzizz
  • Slumber
  • Calm
  • Sleep Cycle
  • 10% Happier
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