Understanding and Identifying Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress, esp. for Responders

More on Self-Care from the VA Daily Dose:

Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up it can cause:

¨ Burnout – feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed.
¨ Secondary traumatic stress – stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.

Coping techniques like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Recognize the signs of both of these conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.

Signs Of Burnout include:

¨ Sadness, depression, or apathy
¨ Easily frustrated
¨ Blaming of others, irritability
¨ Lacking feelings, indifferent
¨ Isolation or disconnection from others
¨ Poor self-care (hygiene)
¨ Tired, exhausted or overwhelmed

Feeling like:

¨ A failure
¨ Nothing you can do will help
¨ You are not doing your job well
¨ You need alcohol/other drugs to cope

Signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress:

¨ Excessively worry or fear about something bad happening
¨ Easily startled, or “on guard” all of the time
¨ Physical signs of stress (e.g. racing heart)
¨ Nightmares or recurrent thoughts about the traumatic situation
¨ The feeling that others’ trauma is yours

Responder Self-Care Techniques:

¨ Limit working hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts.
¨ Work in teams and limit amount of time working alone.
¨ Write in a journal.
¨ Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences.
¨ Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
¨ Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise.
¨ Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say “no.”
¨ Avoid or limit caffeine and use of alcohol.

It is important to remind yourself:

¨ It is not selfish to take breaks.
¨ The needs of survivors are not more important than your own needs and well-being.
¨ Working all of the time does not mean you will make your best contribution.
¨ There are other people who can help in the response.

Source: https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/responders.asp

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