Supporting women experiencing violence can be very stressful and can take a toll on our health.
Stress: While stress is regularly expected for those working in social or community services, supporting immigrant or refugee women can sometimes increase your stress level. For some people, stress levels can increase when significant changes occur for people we are helping. For example, if a number of people you know are deported after you have been working very hard to support them with refugee claims, that can understandably result in negative feelings.
Vicarious Trauma: Vicarious trauma refers to the experience of listening to traumatic stories and supporting individuals experiencing trauma. Especially if you have heard many stories from many people, the cumulative impact of that experience can result in what feels like traumatic stress.
Burnout: Frontline workers and community members who are supporting people facing great challenges are at risk of feeling like their energy, resources or ability to support clients has been exhausted. That is called burnout. This feeling of burnout can also include a sense of hopelessness about the possibilities to make change for an individual or for a whole group of communities. Burnout is more common than people believe, and the impacts are real. Impacts include health, mental health, and a decreased capacity within the organization and community to support people.
To help you reflect on and determine your level of stress and strain which may put you at risk of burnout or vicarious trauma, you may want to try the Compassion Satisfaction/Fatigue Self-Test for Helpers or the Silencing Response Scale. These two tools could be very helpful in your self-reflection.
Strategies for self-care:
Have someone to talk to. Is there a friend or counsellor that you can debrief the work you are doing with? If you are a service provider, do you have regular debriefs with your supervisor?
Connect to others. Whether in person, on the phone, or online, connect with others who are facing similar kinds of stress.
Take care of yourself. Breathe, exercise, try counselling. Don’t push yourself farther than you know you can go.
Get support. Avoid working alone. What resources and people can you get support from? If you are a service provider, do you have a supportive workplace?