Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Self Care and Healing for Advocates...

By Anny Jacoby

Everyday advocates at rape crisis centers, domestic violence agencies and independents in the field see and hear the effects of victimization. When a community is shaken by a high profile case with media attention coming out of the woodwork an advocates work can be or is even more overwhelming. Advocates respond in person or by phone to many victims as they reach out for support, guidance, a safe place to begin their journey and the process of healing. As advocates we see and hear first-hand traumatic experiences of sexual assault and abuse against women, children and men daily. Advocates carry these experiences with them and even perhaps if an advocate is a survivor may experience "flashbacks". The constant exposure to any type of trauma can take a toll on an advocate's well-being. The evil of the world becomes more evident and something as simple as listening to a song or watching a movie, can fill us with anxiety, sadness, anger, and other negative feelings.

Positive impacts of advocacy are witness a victim or survivor's courage, her/his strength and their commitment to healing themselves and families are beyond words.

What is Advocacy?

The definition of an advocate as a noun is:
1. One that pleads the cause of another
2. One that defends or maintains a cause or proposal
3. One that supports or promotes the interests of another

The definition of an advocate as a verb is:
To speak, plead, or argue in favor of.
1. One that argues for a cause, a supporter or defender
2. One that pleads in another's behalf

Noun Synonyms: supporter, spokesperson, promoter, upholder
Verb Synonyms: advise, build up, campaign for, defend, encourage, go bat for, justify, promote, recommend, speak for, spread around, support, urge, protect, shield, support

When the definitions and roles of an advocate are put forth and we understand exactly what our mission is there is nothing that will stop us. Or at the least, we will find a way around the obstacle in order to assist and extend our hand to those in need. I think one can agree with me that any advocate who pours her/his heart and soul into their mission or cause with positivity and deep emotions will be touched in some way or another. It's inevitable.

Marishka Hargitay plays Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order; Special Victim's Unit and President and Founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, stated:

"When people are abused and assaulted,
it is like the doors to their souls slam shut."

Just as souls of victims shut down, souls of advocates can shut down as well. If our souls shut down, how can we continue to assist and help victims to heal and transition into survivors and assist in lighting their souls once again? Where do advocates find support? How does "second-hand trauma" affect advocates? One of the most important things that I have learned throughout the years of advocacy was the absolute need and must to take care of ourselves. It is imperative to advocate "self-care".

Often when an advocate does not advocate "self-care" we see extreme levels of burnout and loss of passion for our mission and work. An advocate must take care of herself/himself while caring for others. Advocates owe themselves, their families and victims to take care of themselves because you cannot help others until you help yourself first. It is equally important that while you are being supportive of others it is just as important to be supportive and to take care of yourself.

So, how can an advocate focus on "self-care"?

General Prevention:
*Become aware of symptoms of stress before they become severe
*Establish clear, realistic stress management goals
*Incorporate all of the support and planning necessary to make it work
*The challenge is to find the satisfactory level of stress each of us requires in order to thrive.

Personal Strategies of Self-Care:
*Physical - Eat, exercise, dance, swim, walk, run, take vacations, sleep, get medical care when needed...
*Emotional - Love yourself, cry, laugh, express outrage, play with children, praise yourself, stay in contact with important people...
*Psychological - self reflect, journal, read, decrease stress, be curious...
*Spiritual - reflect, spend time outdoors, be inspired, pray, sing, meditate, identify what is meaningful, experience awe and cherish your hope...
*Workplace & professional - take a break, chat with other volunteers and staff members, set limits, balance your time, make your workspace comfortable and soothing...
*Balance between work life, volunteerism, family, play and relationships...

As Mother Teresa wrote, "To keep the lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it."

When it comes to stress relief, we need all of the help that we can get. When you are centered, those reaching out to you benefit as well.

Take a moment out of your busy schedule daily to relax (about 7 minutes). Read the following relaxation guide and then listen to the video/music below - you deserve it.

Close your office door, turn the lights off or dim them. Sit back in your chair, prop your feet up if able or lie on the floor, become comfortable, close your eyes and relax. As you settle, relax the weight of your body into the support of your chair or the floor. Notice how the body makes contact with the support of the chair or the floor. Relax the back of your legs...the back of your hips...your lower back, middle back and upper back. Relax the back of your shoulders...the back of your arms...the back of your neck...and the back of your head. Make any adjustments you need to, to relax the body into the chair/floor more fully. Relax into the support of the chair/floor completely.

Relax the muscles of your face. Relax your eyes and your forehead. Relax your temples and cheeks. Relax you mouth and jaw. Relax your whole face. Place your hands on your belly. Feel the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Notice each inhalation as it enters the body, and each exhalation as it exits the body. Let your breathing be soft, full and easy. No effort. Let the body be breathed. As you inhale, say silently in your mind, ‘Let.’ As you exhale, silently say ‘Go.’ Inhale, ‘Let.’ Exhale, ‘Go.’

Continue to observe the breath, letting the body sink deeper and deeper into relaxation. Let your arms rest by your side. As you exhale, make a soft fist with each hand. As you inhale, relax the fist, and let your hands remain softly curled and relaxed. Let the body sink deeper and deeper into the support of the floor.

Now, bring your awareness to your feet. Feel the soles of your feet, and all 10 toes. Imagine that you could inhale and exhale through the soles of your feet. Imagine the breath entering the body through the soles of the feet, and exiting the body through the soles of the feet. Inhale. Exhale.

Now, bring your awareness to your hands. Feel the backs of the hands, the palms of the hands and all 10 fingers. Imagine that you could inhale and exhale through the palms of your hands. Imagine the breath entering the body through the palms of your hands, and exiting the body through the palms of your hands. Inhale. Exhale.

Now, bring your awareness to your belly. Feel the belly rise and fall as you breathe. Imagine that you could inhale and exhale through the navel. Imagine the breath entering the body through the navel and filling the belly. Imagine the breath exiting the body through the navel. Inhale. Exhale.

Now, let your mind relax deeper, below awareness of the breath. Let the mind relax below the level of concentration on anything, including the breath. Let the body and mind let go. Let go, completely.

Notice your breathing. Notice each inhalation as it enters the body and each exhalation as it exits the body. Bring your hands back to the belly, and feel the belly rise and fall. Let your breathing be soft, full and easy. Notice the whole body. Notice the whole body supported by the floor. Notice how easy it is to be in your body, in this moment. Feeling fully supported, in this pose, and in all areas of your life.

When you’re ready to begin moving out of relaxation, gently move the fingers and toes. Let some sensation spread into the hands and feet. Stretch or move in any way that feels good. If on the floor, roll onto your right side, and rest there. If sitting, remain relaxed. Breathe easily. Take the best feeling of this relaxation with you.

Take care and STAY SAFE!
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