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Parents. Teachers. Nurses. Doctors. Counselors. Social workers. People who take care of people for a living heroically take on some of the most emotionally draining jobs out there.
The same is true for domestic violence advocates, a group of professionals who champion for survivors at all hours of the day and night. As a result, advocates can be highly susceptible to burnout and vicarious trauma. Both can lead to not-so-fantastic side effects such as decreased productivity, feelings of guilt or incompetence, nightmares, an increased feeling of hopelessness, paranoia, PTSD and withdrawal from family or friends.
Of course, the key to avoiding these negative side effects—other than quitting your job and moving to the Bahamas—is upping your self-care strategies. Here are 16 ways to start:
1. Educate yourself on vicarious trauma. Ask for training on this topic so you can better understand it and be able to recognize the signs in yourself and your colleagues.
2. Recognize your triggers. If you’re an advocate and a survivor, talking to other survivors and hearing their stories could be a trigger. Be prepared by learning some grounding techniques in “Stop a Flashback In Its Tracks.”
3. Open up to coworkers. Go beyond water-cooler gossip and The Voice recaps, and really talk to your colleagues. Share your feelings. They may have useful insight or at least be helpful sounding boards. Ask how they’re doing, too. You never know who you might help.
4. Maintain outside friendships. Work friends shouldn’t be your only friends. Get together with friends from other areas of your life to provide balance.
5. Sign up for advocacy training. Junior staff are more likely to suffer burnout and vicarious trauma than seasoned advocates. That may be because seasoned advocates have more knowledge and resources to rely on in their work. Continue to build connections and attend training whenever you can.
6. Debrief cases. Ask your manager or a mentor to debrief your cases with you so you can learn what worked and how you might approach challenges in the future.
7. Adjust your expectations. As much as you’d like to, you’re not going to be able to help everyone who walks through the door. Some survivors just aren’t ready and sometimes circumstances beyond your control make the ideal result out of reach. Don’t hold yourself to impossible standards and know when to let go.
8. Set boundaries. Advocacy is your work—maybe your passion—but it is not your life. Institute a no-email-after-7 policy, turn your phone off on the weekends and do whatever you need to do to have a life outside of work.
9. Join a support group. Learn from your peers and swap coping mechanisms in a group setting.
10. Talk to a therapist. If feelings become overwhelming or are causing you anxiety, depression or PTSD, seek professional one-to-one counseling.
11. Go out for lunch. Get out of the office at least once a day. Eat outside, shop on your lunch hour or take a lap around the building for a break.
12. Exercise. A great stress reliever, working out keeps both body and mind fit.
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13. Get creative. Express yourself through journaling, painting, glass-blowing or any number of Groupon-inspired artistic endeavors.
14. Nourish your spirit. Connect with something greater than yourself, whether that’s going to church, meditating or communing with nature.
15. Become a mentor. Taking new advocates under your wing may sound like added work, but keep in mind, the more competent they become, the more they can take off your plate.
16. Remember your wins. Keep a feel-good file where you store kudos and success stories. Take a peek whenever you start feeling like the work is hopeless.
For more ideas to avoid burnout, read, “When the Work Is Too Much.”
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