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Integrating self-care practices in work environments to combat vicarious trauma

In professions where exposure to traumatic content is inevitable, vicarious trauma is a psychosocial risk that cannot be eliminated. Workplaces then need to establish strong protective factors and controls to minimise the risk to employee wellbeing as much as possible. One of these protective factors is prioritising self-care. By integrating self-care into the organisational culture, employees are more empowered to prioritise their mental health. 

The importance of self-care

Self-care encompasses a range of intentional activities and practices aimed at nurturing one’s physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. In the context of vicarious trauma, self-care becomes particularly crucial as individuals navigate the emotional toll of their work. Engaging in activities such as mindfulness exercises, physical exercise, creative outlets, and healthy boundary-setting can help mitigate the effects of secondary stress symptoms and promote overall wellbeing. 

Creating a culture of self-care

Organisations play a pivotal role in fostering cultures that prioritise self-care and wellbeing. By providing resources, support, and encouragement for self-care practices, workplaces can empower employees to prioritise their mental health amidst challenging work environments. Encouraging open dialogue about self-care, normalising help-seeking behaviours, and promoting work-life balance are key components of creating a culture that values employee wellbeing. The primary catalysts for fostering a self-care culture within any organisation are its team leaders. When leaders demonstrate effective self-care practices, openly acknowledge the impact of vicarious trauma on themselves, and actively engage in both spontaneous and planned wellbeing check-ins with their team members, the organisational culture evolves from one marked by stoicism and inevitable burnout to a collective focus on building and maintaining a shared wellbeing buffer.  

Emphasising the influence of leaders in shaping organisational culture is crucial. We’ve engaged in consultations regarding the management of vicarious trauma within certain organisations, where confronting traumatic material was perceived as an inevitable aspect of the job, leading individuals to either endure it silently or risk burnout and departure. However, through collaborative efforts with leaders and reshaping their discourse on this matter, we witnessed a transformation in the entire organisational ethos which resulted in reduced workplace injury and lower team turnover. Prioritising wellbeing and self-care became ingrained in everyday operations, marking a significant shift in culture.

Ultimately, the integration of self-care practices into work environments empowers individuals to take proactive steps in managing their own mental health. By fostering a culture of self-awareness, self-compassion, and resilience, organisations can equip employees with the tools and resources they need to navigate the challenges of their roles while maintaining their wellbeing. Prioritising self-care not only benefits individuals but also contributes to a healthier and more productive workplace overall.