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November 30, 2022
Vicarious Trauma And Uncertainty: A Guide To Self-Care

Ilda Caeiro-Azzam

A woman appears stressed as she sits with her eyes closed and her hand on her forehead.

Vicarious Trauma And Managing Uncertainty: A Guide To Self-Care

In the last two and a half years, we have lived through the Covid-19 pandemic and have seen social movements respond to injustices and inequities. Black Lives Matter gained international attention in 2020 as it protested racially-motivated killings. Every Child Matters also gained widespread attention in 2021 when unmarked residential school graves were discovered across Canada. 

While these events have garnered significant attention, I also recognize that many other racist events, wars, and genocides happen to us, around us, and in the world. Much work is still needed to achieve racial justice and true reconciliation with Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, and other marginalized people.

We may feel overwhelmed, triggered, or traumatized by the pain that we witness in our frontline work or in the world around us. How do we cope with vicarious trauma and ensure that we take care of our mental and physical wellness? Activities such as meditation, yoga, or massages will not work for everyone and that is totally okay. We must commit to self-care and determine what works for us.  

What is vicarious trauma?

Vicarious trauma is the experience of bearing witness to atrocities that are committed against others. It is the result of absorbing the sight, sound, smell, touch and feel of the stories told by survivors who are searching to release their own pain. Here are some ways to prevent and address vicarious trauma.

The ABCs of addressing vicarious trauma

Awareness

It is important to be aware of your needs, limits, emotions, and resources. Tune into all levels of awareness, including cognitive, intuitive, and somatic. Mindfulness can help you in this process of awareness and acceptance.

Balance

Maintain balance among activities, particularly with your vocational labour, recreation, and rest. Inner balance allows us to be more aware of all aspects of ourselves.

Connection

This refers to the connection with oneself, to others, and to something larger. Connection and communication allow us to validate our shared experiences, reduce feelings of isolation, and strengthen resilience.

Manage stress or trauma with a wellness toolkit

Develop your own wellness toolkit that you can use to face difficult situations in a calm and grounded manner. Here are some common elements to include in your toolkit.

Stay active 

  • Get physical exercise.
  • Practice meditation or other stress reduction techniques.
  • Learn grounding techniques 

Breathe deeply

  • Take a few minutes each day for deep breathing. Inhale steadily through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Keep breathing deeply and mindfully for as long as you can. Practice daily, whether for 30 seconds or five minutes. 

Get support

  • Reach out to your EAP, family doctor, or therapist.
  • Talk with family and friends about your thoughts and feelings. 

Take a holistic approach to life

  • Set life goals. 
  • Set aside time to stop, reflect, and find meaning and purpose. 
  • Seek out soul or spiritual connection. 
  • Build breaks or time off into your day, week, and month. 

Other suggestions for wellness

  • Make a holistic bucket list that includes physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or social elements 
  • Learn more about emotions and seek to understand how you feel.
  • Consider a digital detox.
  • Take five minutes for gratitude and mindfulness.

Support and connection are key to wellness

In summary, your well-being matters. Support and connection are the keys to prevent and heal from stress or vicarious trauma. If you would like more support with addressing trauma, check out my webinar on Grounding Techniques or reach out to one of our experienced therapists. We are here to walk with you in your journey. 

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