The Cost of Caring:
Secondary Traumatic Stress and the Impact of Working with High-Risk Children and Families

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Lesson 3: Self-Care Strategies for Combating Secondary Trauma

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Steps for Combating Stress 

Stand back and reflect.  Ask yourself: 

Does this really matter?  There are times when the work is so deep and full of stress that it becomes easy to be overwhelmed and paralyzed.  Asking yourself this question will help sort out what is important and what you can let go of. 

Have you done the best you can under the circumstances?  It is easy to become obsessed with what we might, should, or could have done.  Focusing on doing good work and learning from mistakes is an important part of growing as a professional.  If you have done the best you could with the information you had to work with, let it go and move on to the next thing. 

Do you have realistic expectations of yourself and others?  Often times helping professionals have unrealistically high expectations of themselves and those around them.  You can’t be with your clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You can’t make decisions for them or help them carry out those decisions.   Consider the two competing pressures that are part of your job:  In one respect, you are expected to be empathic (which requires you to take feelings into consideration).  Yet on the other hand, you are expected to turn off emotions in order to get a great deal of work done.  Knowing that these two expectations are part of your job may help you find a balance.  Create reasonable, achievable goals and expectations for yourself and others and see how much better you feel about meeting your expectations! 

Engage in Healthy/Healing Activities 

Engaging in activities that are good for you is essential.  You are in control of how you treat yourself.  The list below includes things you have heard before and inherently know, but as “helpers” we often forget. 

  • Eat right Put down the bag of chips and pick up an apple.  Drink less caffeine and more water. 

  • Exercise regularly Exercise is a stress reliever.  Even if the only exercise you have time for is walking around the parking lot at lunch – try it.  You will be amazed at how much better it makes you feel.  (It also gets you out of the office, away from the computer, fax, etc.) 

  • Get enough sleep.  Your body needs sleep to recover so that you are better able to handle the stress of a new day. 

  • Practice relaxation techniques.  You know them – deep breathing, visual imagery.  We often help our clients find ways to relax.  Believe it or not, they'll work for you too! 

  • Spend time with friends.  “A true friend is someone who is there for you when they would rather be someplace else” Len Wein.  Being with people you like and who care about and respect you is a great stress reliever.  Allow yourself to enjoy the company of others instead of focusing only on work and work issues. 

Re-engage in Work Activities 

Incorporating ways of managing stress into your daily routine will go a long way to making work seem more manageable.  There are several ways that you can help yourself re-engage in work activities in a less stressful way.  First, work to set manageable tasks for yourself.  Completing tasks will reduce stress.  Second, find a pace that works well for you.  Some people work better under a deadline while others work better at a slower but well-maintained pace.  Third, organize your time and activities.   Set reasonable goals for yourself and organize your time based on what you need to accomplish in a given day.  Be careful not to over-schedule or make long to-do lists that are unreasonable and will only add stress.  Finally, help someone else.  Helping others makes you feel good about yourself.  Relationships are an important part of life – rely on them.  Giving them up so you can work more deprives yourself of a major stress reliever. 


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