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Blue Heron Support Services Association

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Vicarious Trauma

Author: Shannon Harris

As a caregiver or support staff, we are there helping others with their issues and problems. We are often the first ones there when something goes wrong. Did you know that helping other people through a traumatic events can have lasting impacts on the caregiver as well, even if you are not there during the event? Listening to other people’s stories can lead to vicarious trauma. This is trauma that you have absorbed from someone else. It is just as troubling as experiencing an event yourself and can have the same effects of your body, mind and behavior.

Fear, real or imagined, your body reacts the same way...

What are those affects you ask… well when the body experiences trauma, there is a chemical reaction in the body that initiates the fight, flight or freeze response. This chemical reaction is meant to protect you and sustain life. Imagine a bear coming out of the woods at you, this will help you have the energy needed to run away. But unfortunately, the body does not recognize if the threat is real or imagined and will react in the same way. Muscles tighten, breathing becomes short and rapid, your brain’s functions shut down to only the required areas to manage the major systems in the body such as breathing and keeping your heart beating. Your stomach and digestive tracks stops working and you can have diarrhea, upset stomach and vomiting. None of these things are pleasant. This is why it is so important to debrief after each event, each troubling session or anything you can’t stop thinking about. It is not a weakness, it is a strength to talk about this. Even those staff that have been working in the field for many years, are susceptible. Self-care is very important.

As a caregiver, we often forget about ourselves. But isn’t it ironic that the caregivers in the field of human services are the worst at self-care. We are so busy worrying about everyone else, including the individuals we support, our coworkers and our families that we leave very little time for ourselves and yet, if we are not healthy, we cannot be the caregiver that the majority of us want to be. The most ironic part of it all is that we are trained to help others with self-care and ensure that we advise others of the importance of self-care, yet we do not do it for ourselves.

Pets are just one great stress reliever

Do you know what you need to do for yourself to help reduce stress and relax? No one can tell you what that is, but please take the time to find that out. For some of us, it may be having as hot bath, spending time with family and friends, or hugging you puppy. But whatever it is, please do it. You are important!


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