This section of the resource hub is about supporting yourself – with information around secondary trauma, burnout, and the additional stress you may be facing as a result of Covid-19. We also have a list of resources to help you look after yourself
Working in the VAWG sector is an uplifting, fulfilling and important job. This work can also be highly stressful and upsetting.
During Covid-19 multiple additional stressors have emerged. It is likely that staff are feeling even greater effects on their mental health.
Here are some articles on other’s experiences
- Read this support worker’s experience of burnout, here.
- Read this service coordinator’s experience of secondary trauma, here.
- Read this refuge manager’s experience of working during Covid-19, here.
- Read this social care worker’s discussion of the emotional impact of their job, here.
- Read this article on work with survivors and vicarious trauma, here.
- Read this IDVA’s experience of the emotional toll of advocacy work, here.
It can be hard to acknowledge our own care needs. It is important that staff view themselves as individuals with their own needs and experiences – looking after yourself helps you to be better at looking after others.
Secondary and vicarious trauma
Both secondary and vicarious trauma are the impact of exposure to working with and hearing from those who have experienced trauma.
Secondary trauma is the development of PTSD-like symptoms without directly witnessing or having been involved in a traumatic event. Secondary trauma can occur unexpectedly and suddenly (Sudden, 2019). Through being witness to their lives and hearing their stories, staff may feel overwhelmed by the experience, and to a lesser extent, face the same feelings faced by the trauma survivors in their care. Secondary trauma can have a significant impact on your mental health.
Vicarious trauma occurs from repeated exposure to other people’s trauma. It is linked to the cumulative effect of working with trauma, building up over time. This, like secondary trauma, can lead you to experience symptoms similar to their patients/clients.
Symptoms of secondary trauma are very similar to vicarious trauma symptoms, and include, but are not limited to:
- experiencing lingering feelings of anger, rage and sadness about patient’s victimisation
- becoming overly involved emotionally with the patient
- experiencing bystander guilt, shame, feelings of self-doubt
- being preoccupied with thoughts of patients outside of the work situation
- over identification with the patient (having horror and rescue fantasies)
- loss of hope, pessimism, cynicism
- distancing, numbing, detachment, cutting patients off, staying busy. Avoiding listening to client’s story of traumatic experiences
- difficulty in maintaining professional boundaries with the client, such as overextending self (trying to do more than is in the role to help the patient)
(British Medical Association, 2019)
- Office for Victims of Crime: Vicarious Trauma Toolkit.
- Headington Institute: Understanding & Addressing Vicarious Trauma: online training module.
- LawCare: Vicarious Trauma
- Holly Bell, Shanti Kulkarni, & Lisa Dalton: Organizational Prevention of Vicarious Trauma.
- SVRI: Guidelines for the prevention and management of vicarious trauma among researchers of sexual and intimate partner violence.
- VAWnet: How can I mitigate the impact of vicarious trauma to help promote the long-term sustainability of this work?
Burnout is a form of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by overwhelming and long term stress.
Burnout is common in support professions where individuals feel drained by working in a highly stressful environment. If you are burnout, you may feel unable to focus, maintain interest and stay motivated.
Symptoms of burnout include, but are not limited to:
- Physical symptoms: feeling tired and drained, lowered immune system (leading to frequent illness), frequent headaches and muscle pain, change in appetite or sleep patterns
- Emotional symptoms: sense of failure and self-doubt, defeatism, detachment, loss of motivation, increasingly cynical outlook
- Behavioural symptoms: withdrawal from responsibility, isolating from others, procrastination, using food or substances to cope, skipping or turning up to work late, taking out frustration on others
- MindTools: Recovering from Burnout.
- Workplace Strategies for Mental Health: Burnout response.
- Posner, Zoe, Janssen, Jessica and Roddam, Hazel: Mental Health staff views on improving burnout and mental toughness
For more on the difference between burnout and secondary trauma see this blog from The Lookout.
Covid-19 and additional stresses
We are living in a highly stressful time. We have had to adapt our work and personal lives, and many of us have faced the loss of loved ones, or suffered from the illness ourselves.
Below are some additional anxieties/stresses you may have felt over the last few months, and some resources to understand and cope with these stresses.
Physical illness and recovery: you may have caught Covid-19. This may have been traumatic, and left you scared and exhausted. For some, recovery may take longer than anticipated and overcoming the virus may have had a negative mental and physical health impact.
- Royal College of Occupational Therapists: How to manage post-viral fatigue after COVID-19
- Royal College of Occupational Therapists: How to conserve your energy: Practical advice for people during and after having COVID-19
Grief: you may have lost friends, family or colleagues to the virus. For many, this period is one of grief.
- The Good Grief Trust: Coronavirus Bereavement Advice
Work/life balance: working at home can be hard. It is often difficult to switch off from thinking about the difficult events or stories heard during your working day.
- Welcome to the Jungle: 7 tips for better work-life balance during lockdown.
- Mental Health Foundation: Looking after your mental health while working during the coronavirus outbreak
- Homeless Link: (webinar) PIE at home – creating a healthy remote working space
Inability to maintain normal wellness/mindfulness routines: All of us have our particular habits or hobbies that allow us to relax and unwind after a stressful event or work day. Without our ability to perform these routines, we may feel additionally stressed.
- NHS: Mental wellbeing while staying at home
Video call fatigue: Attempting to support service users from a far and adapting work routines is likely to have led to additional exhaustion and stress. One example of this is video call fatigue.
- Weforum: Why ‘video call fatigue’ might be making you tired during lockdown – and how to beat it.
- UCL School of Management has recently published an article – Avoiding Video Conferencing Fatigue While Working Remotely. The article discusses how video conferencing compares to in-person interactions and provides best practice tips for video conferencing. The piece also includes tips for leadership to ensure that their employees are adapting well to technology changes and avoiding burnout.
Black Lives Matter and structural racism: Black and minoritised staff working in domestic abuse services are likely to be facing additional stresses. Higher rates of Covid-19 mortality, Black Lives Matter protests and ongoing conversations around structural disadvantage and racism are likely to have been emotionally draining and potentially triggering for Black and minoritised staff. It is important that organisations acknowledge these additional stresses and support their Black and minoritised colleagues.
- VAWnet: We exist! As a woman of color, how can I find my place in the domestic violence movement?
- Shine: 3 Things You Should Know About Intersectionality and Self-Care
- VAWnet: Why is healing from collective trauma critical for our social justice efforts.
- POC Online Classroom: Self Care hub.
- The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network: Their site hosts a comprehensive directory of therapists of colour practising across the UK, many of which have moved online during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Black Minds Matter: an organisation that aims to connect Black people with professional mental health services across the UK.
- For white staff members looking to best support their Black and minoritised colleagues, see ICL’s hub of resources: how to be a white ally.
Looking after yourself
Below is a list of resources designed to help you start in your self-care journey. Many of these resources are also suitable for survivors.
- Social Led: Coping with the New Normal – plan well and self-care wisely:
- Homeless Link: Wellbeing at work – addressing the needs of your team
- Homeless Link: Reflective Practice and Resilience 101 – for frontline staff
- AVA training: We are running training on managing secondary trauma – keep an eye out on our training page.
- Inner Space: Guided Meditations, talks and seminars on wellbeing and mindfulness.
- VAWnet: #Care4Advocates: COVID-19 Resources to Support Advocates’ Well-being.
- Mental Health Foundation: Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
- Epione: Toolkit – Managing Anxiety During Covid-19.
- National Resource Centre on Domestic Violence: Keeping your Cup Full is Essential to Trauma Informed Advocacy Part II
- Birkbeck: Managing our wellbeing in the context of covid-19
- Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing
- Project Ares: Resources to support front-line workers responding to covid-19.
- NHS: 10 stress busters (supporting audio clips)
- Unilever: Wellbeing “healthy habits” – Emotional energy
- Winona: GROUNDING: Create personal calm.
- The muse: 8 ways to stop thinking about journaling and actually start journaling.
- Healthline: 30 Grounding Techniques to Quiet Distressing Thoughts.
- QuietKit: Guided Meditation for Beginners.
- VAWnet: Redefining WE: Building Beloved Communities.
- VAWnet: (webinar) Preventing Compassion Fatigue: Honoring Thyself
- VAWnet: My community is going through difficult times; how can I be a messenger of hope?
- Survivor’s Network: Grounding Techniques.
- Self Care Psychology: Self Care Acts Collection
- Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG): a United Voices of the World (UVW) group and the first UK trade union group dedicated solely to representing workers in the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) sector.
- Mental Health Matters: Mental Health Matters Helpline is a confidential service staffed by highly trained and experienced telephone helpline workers, offering emotional support to people.
- Hub of Hope: Using the location of web browser or mobile devices, the cloud-based web application allows anyone, anywhere to find the nearest source of support for any mental health issue, from depression and anxiety to PTSD and suicidal thoughts, as well as providing a ‘talk now’ button connecting users directly to the Samaritans.
- Our Frontline: Round-the-clock one-to-one support service for health, care, emergency and key workers with onward links to useful resources and organisations.