As the owner and operator of a nonprofit for sexual assault and domestic violence warriors, Within Your Reach, it becomes part of my day-to-day life to be contacted or confronted with a warrior, telling me their story or asking me questions. Not that this bothers me, I absolutely love that people feel comfortable discussing their personal lives with me, but that prompts the question of self-care. How do I take care of myself, so I don’t begin to vicariously absorb their traumas?
In this industry, self-care is vital! In my area, the burnout rate is typically around 3 years. This field is filled with individuals who have been abused, demeaned, lost control of their bodies, violated, etc. Hearing these stories over and over again can be detrimental to even the most sound of mind, strong, caregiver. But with the proper self-care activities, you can work with this demographic until retirement.
Recently, a lot of research has been done regarding vicarious trauma and self-care. Some of the most effective ways to self-care are coloring and writing. Coloring requires no mental energy. It is relaxing and proactive. You’re not sitting like a vegetable on the couch consuming copious amounts of junk food. You’re giving your mind time to wander and sort out any issues that you are holding on to. And writing is proactive, and allows you to sort through your feelings, see them on paper, and get them off of your shoulders. You don’t have to write about what you’re struggling with, or hearing. Just write. Write a story, do some stream-of-consciousness writing. Whatever helps you evaluate and let go of the things that might be holding you back.
I utilize both of these methods of self-care pretty consistently. From the writing aspect, I decided to put the stories I was hearing to good use. Instead of allowing the negative, horrifying stories to inhibit my mind, I interviewed warriors and wrote about their stories in a book. I recently published this book and hit #1 Amazon best seller on the first day it was released! The fact is, so many people know that sexual assault exists, but don’t care to recognize the aftermath. This book taught over 1,000 people in the two weeks it’s been available on Amazon (Shameless plug; Breaking Through the Silence; the Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault), what really happens internally to a warrior in the wake of a sexual assault. It felt amazing for me to put those stories to good use. And truthfully, I learned a lot by hearing from many people.
I am also the proud owner of numerous coloring books, adult coloring books (children’s coloring books, Disney, Lisa Frank, you name it, I’ve got it), and drawers full of coloring supplies. I encourage my interns to color whenever they feel overwhelmed. It helps to numb my mind, stops me from overthinking, makes me relax, and stops the production of adrenaline. It’s truthfully a silly, but very useful tool to have in your toolbox!
When I’m feeling antsy and can’t stop my brain, I will throw on some music and go for a run, or go to the gym. Burning that extra energy, to me, slows my mind down. I concentrate on the music and on my movements, and stop focusing on the stories or trying to fix everyone’s problems. A lot of times, I’ll bring my dog with me on a run. Then, I concentrate on her, and playing with her, and just enjoying our time together, because working three jobs, including running this nonprofit, takes up a lot of time!
Every person has different methods of self-care. Some people indulge in their favorite foods, some people cuddle up with a good book, see their friends, play video games, listen to music, etc. There is no wrong way to self-care, as long as the activity is healthy. Overeating, or overcompensating by taking part in risky activities, such as engaging in unsafe sexual activities, using drugs or alcohol to cope, self- mutilation, etc. are all bad ways to self-care, even if it momentarily eases your mind. Those are the kinds of activities that create bad habits, and will usually lead to burnout or addiction.
For more information about my nonprofit, visit www.withinreachil.org .
-Marissa Cohen, Best-Selling Author and Founder of Within Your Reach, Inc.