No one likes to talk about it. No one has enough time for it. However, self care is an essential part of providing trauma informed care. Stress happens to all of us, so what makes working in healthcare unique?
Working with ill and injured children and families, who are often traumatized, exposes you to other's emotions and distress. In turn, this exposure increases your own stress. When left unmanaged, stress can take a toll on you and your patients. Unfortunately, years of experience doesn't provide immunity to stress. Without self care, stress accumulates and impacts your own health and well-being. In fact, when not address, stress can overwhelm a person's coping ability, possibly resulting in secondary traumatic stress or other related conditions, like burnout, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma. Since we all experience stress, what are some of the red flags that you're experiencing secondary traumatic stress?
As the saying goes, "You can't pour from an empty cup", and in order to attend to your patients, you must attend to yourself and your stress. A simple way to help cope with stress is to remember the A-B-C's:
Every individual will have their own way of coping, but some additional ideas include:
In your daily routine: Eat sensibly and regularly every day; Get adequate sleep each night; Exercise regularly; Take precautions against exceeding your own limits; Acknowledge your reactions to stressful circumstances- allow yourself time to cope with these emotions.
At work: Try to diversify tasks at work, or vary your caseload, to the extent that you can; Take breaks during your workday; Take vacation days; Use relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing) as needed; Talk with colleagues about how your work affects you; Seek out, or establish, a professional support group; Recognize your personal limitations; set limits with patients and colleagues.
Outside of work: Spend time with family and friends; Stay connected with others through community events, religious groups, etc.; Engage in pleasurable activities unrelated to work, especially those that allow for creative expression (writing, art, music, sports, etc.); Be mindful of your own thoughts (especially cynicism) and feelings; seek out the positives in difficult situations; Engage in rejuvenating activities such as meditation, prayer, or relaxation to renew your energy.
Most importantly, seek therapy if your work is negatively impacting your self-esteem, quality of life or relationships.
Hospital systems integrating trauma informed care can also work to prevent secondary traumatic stress. The Secondary Traumatic Stress Committee of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests child serving systems:
- Recognize the impact of secondary trauma on the workforce.
- Recognize that exposure to trauma is a risk of the job of serving traumatized children and families.
- Understand that trauma can shape the culture of organizations in the same way that trauma shapes the world view of individuals.
- Understand that a traumatized organization is less likely to effectively identify its clients’ past trauma or mitigate or prevent future trauma.
- Develop the capacity to translate trauma-related knowledge into meaningful action, policy, and improvements in practices.