Saturday, March 19, 2011

Secondary trauma first aid...

My heart goes out to all people suffering the direct effects of the disasters we are seeing on TV this week.

How much the world can change in just a few days. Even though I was fairly sheltered from newspapers, internet and newscasts while I was away, just the conversations of those around me and my own naturally hypersensitive empathic responses were enough to raise my heart rate, increase my respirations and create a buzz of anxiety. (Witnessing trauma triggers old trauma responses.)

The current disasters, to say nothing of the trauma we encounter in our workplaces and caring situations at home, can combine to cause acute secondary trauma responses in our own lives even though we are not actual survivors of the disasters. What can we do to lessen the effects of the trauma we witness?

Here are a few practical tips:

1. Monitor and limit your trauma exposure through TV, the internet, newspapers, and conversations.

2. If you begin to feel anxious, stop and take a few deep breaths and relax your whole body, particularly your pelvic floor muscles, as you breathe deeply, pause, then slowly release your breath through pursed lips. (If a medical condition contraindicates this type of breathing, please make adjustments to meet your own needs.)

3. Take a walk in the fresh air every day.

4. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust to listen respectfully.

5. Draw deeply upon your spiritual beliefs and practices.

6. Do something to help someone else. It will lessen your feelings of helplessness. For example:

- Pray for them or hold them in your meditation.
- Send a donation to a reliable disaster relief organization.
- Send a note of support to someone who is directly affected by the disaster.
- Help someone in your family or neighbourhood - drive someone to a doctor's appointment, visit someone who is shut in, do someone's grocery shopping, spring clean someone's garden, do a new mom's laundry, buy some flowers for a friend who's struggling ...

7. Be close to the people who love and support you - either in person or by email, Skype/iChat or phone.

8. Ramp up your usual self care practices - trust the strategies that have worked in the past.

9. If none of these things help, consider seeing a counsellor who specializes in trauma work. There are a number of short term interventions that could be very helpful in reducing your stress.

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