Taking Care of Yourself as an Advocate

I found that my wounds begin to heal when the voices of those endangered by silence are given power. The silence of hopelessness, of despair buried in the depths of poverty, violence, racism are more deadly than bullets. The gift of light, in our compassion, our listening, our works of love is the gift of life to ourselves.

— Janice Mirikitani

Practicing self-care is important for every advocate. Not doing so can lead to burnout, high levels of stress, and loss of passion (“compassion fatigue”) for the work we do. It is inevitable that advocates indirectly experience the trauma of the individual they’re helping. This form of second-hand trauma is covert and subtly builds over time. If left unaddressed, especially in the cases of advocates who have experienced sexual violence and childhood trauma, it will be reflected in our ability to help others. Before we can help others, we must be able to help ourselves first.

Signs of Compassion Fatigue:

  • Disturbances in frame of reference (identity, worldview, and spirituality)
  • Lowering of self-capacities (eating, sleeping, exercising, hobbies, and relationships with friends and partners)
  • Lack of ego resources (the ability to self-monitor)

Prevention:

  • Maintain and communicate healthy boundaries between victim and advocate
  • Find the satisfactory level of stress you require in order to thrive
  • Develop stress management plan (ex: schedule mental health days, café days)
  • Recognize symptoms and signs of stress and compassion fatigue

Practice:

  • Journaling
  • Creative arts
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Taking lunch breaks outside the office
  • Taking mental health days or café days
  • Holding debriefing sessions with a supervisor or colleague
  • Replacing a cup of coffee with a cup of herbal tea

  • Burning incense
  • Travelling
  • Attending a conference to recharge batteries
  • Rediscover an old hobby
  • Regularly exercising
  • Substitute a shower with a bath
  • Volunteer

Organizational Policies

Self-care should be one of the important components in the organizations and be implemented with policies that will allow advocates care of themselves.
Policies can include:

  • Mental health days or café days
  • Debriefing sessions with a supervisor or colleague
  • Health care benefits that will include non-western medicine
  • Allowing advocates to attend conferences, workshops

Resources for self-care