By Bethany Jones
Anyone can burn out, some do so like a roman candle – in a bright combustible way, while others burn out slowly – quietly, like a candle at a dinner party slowly dripping away while no one notices - until it extinguishes itself. While everyone can burn out, not everyone can get secondary trauma. Secondary trauma is different from its exhausted cousin burn out. Secondary trauma only affects a handful of professions: social workers, therapists, teachers, nurses, caregivers, teachers, ER doctors, law enforcement, and members of the media. We are the front line of trauma and exposed to it constantly, day in and day out – a sponge for the wounds of the world. And our exposure to the trauma and absorption of the trauma can eventually leave an indelible scar and lesions on our soul.
Recently, Fergal Keane, recently the BBC’s Africa Editor, stepped down from his role as a result of PTSD. Jonathan Munro, the BBC’s head of newsgathering explained the diagnosis came because of “several decades of work in conflict zones around the world." In order to prevent secondary trauma from becoming the inheritance for our future peers and colleagues, we must pause and see how we can best address the situations ourselves.
Nine or ten weeks ago we were susceptible to trauma and now even more so. The novel COVID-19 quickly went from being a headline to altering our reality. Now, more than ever we must address secondary trauma before our frontline responders are faced with a catastrophic mental health crisis. Our entire reality crumbled around us and changed. Routines we had come to rely and depend on were rapidly ripped out from underneath us. Overnight, the gale-force winds of change wiped away any resemblance of the routine we had come to cherish and rely upon.
In the past few weeks, many of us have had to build a brand new routine while at the same time fight crowds, manage concerns of bringing the virus back to loved ones, handle quotidian stresses, and face enormous workloads. The already overstretched worker is now stretched beyond the breaking point. This new interruptive world - paired with isolation, loneliness, worries, anxiety, and the demands of both our jobs and everyday life - can compound and add up.
There isn’t a mask or sanitizer you can order online; have it overnighted and then wow – you’re protected against secondary trauma. In order to protect ourselves, we must begin by identifying and implementing the necessary steps now.
First, you need to identify that your resiliency is low, and your anxiety is high. Here are some ways to notice that you may be suffering from secondary trauma:
- You are startling easily;
- You are drinking more; and
- You are not sleeping well (sleeping more or sleeping less).
Some ways you can try to find resiliency:
Decide when, how and which news you are going to consume. Everything you watch and listen to you invite in. You get to decide which news you want, when you want it and how you want to consume the news – or any other media.
Do something that sparks joy. No, not like Marie Kondo; find something that is not work-related - not a chore or job around the house - something you genuinely enjoy doing. Allow yourself the time and grace to simply enjoy an activity. You don’t need a side hustle or to always be “on” or “on the go.”
Avoid toxic productivity. Many people vowed to clean their home, start home improvement projects, garden, paint, or pick up a new craft or hobby. When the quarantine lifts and we enter the various reopening phases, remember that if you are a frontline worker or if you’ve been working through this pandemic – you weren’t afforded the time that others were. Don’t allow comparisons to steal your joy.
Get sleep. Get rest when you can. It not only helps us build a more resilient immune system, it also builds up emotional and mental health immunity.
Therapy. Many counseling centers are doing online counseling sessions. If you are worried about cost, many universities and counseling centers offer sliding scale. Also, if your employer offers insurance, this may be covered or help with the cost.
Above all else, during this time and in the future – take care of yourself. Practicing self-care is like wearing a mask or taking your vitamins right now: imperative to keep your mental health in good condition. Self-care is as essential to the essential worker as essential workers have been in this pandemic.
People talk about a glass being “half full” or “half empty” but rarely talk about the contents of the glass – if all you have in your glass is dirty water, then you can’t help anyone. Who wants to drink dirty water? By practicing self-care, you can clean your water - filter out the pollution of the soul – and then you can heal yourself and heal those around you.
BETHANY JONES - began her career in television working as a researcher on Prison Break. She has since produced hours of TV for Oxygen, History, A&E, CNN, Discovery, CBS and won best sports video of the year for Grantland, ESPN’s pop culture arm. During her career she has interviewed leading government officials, federal agents, United States Attorneys and law enforcement officers across the country. She has also interviewed people that were convicted as spies, arms dealers, murder, terrorism, other notorious crimes and system impacted individuals. In addition to her TV producing she is a host of the popular podcast, The Pros&Cons which has half a million listens in 81 countries. Bethany holds an honors degree from the University of Wales, U.K. in English literature and French.