Beyond Anxiety: Do You Have Secondary Traumatic Stress?

Are you experiencing increased anxiety, depression, or other concerning symptoms in response to someone else’s trauma?

Are you feeling a sense of despair or hopelessness about the state of the world? 

Secondary traumatic stress can happen to anyone. It impacts helping professionals, like nurses, therapists, or paramedics, who experience and witness the implications of trauma regularly. However, secondary traumatic stress can also affect everyday people. For example, maybe you had a close friend attempt suicide, or you are a foster parent raising a child who has a history of physical abuse. 

Let’s explore the warning signs and coping skills you can use if you are struggling with secondary traumatic stress.

Understanding The Symptoms

You may not be able to tell if you are struggling with secondary traumatic stress. After all, when an emergency strikes a loved one, it’s normal to want to be helpful and attentive to them. It’s also reasonable to push aside your own feelings to be present and supportive to that person. That said, you also need to pay attention to your own possible health changes and responses to trauma.

Symptoms of secondary traumatic stress

Everyone responds differently to trauma, so your reactions may look a little different. However, some of the common warning signs that you are struggling with secondary traumatic stress can include:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Increased body tension and pain (headaches, stomach problems, heart palpitations)
  • Intensified feelings of agitation and irritability
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and/or usual hobbies/activities
  • Problems in personal relationships
  • Sleep issues
  • Appetite changes
  • Increased substance use 
  • Feeling a sense of hopelessness
  • Excessive guilt or shame
  • Increased depression 
  • Trouble concentrating and focusing
  • Feeling more cynical (about people, work, the world)
  • A sense of numbness or detachment
  • Obsessing and ruminating over the details of the trauma
  • Feeling suicidal

Remember that each person reacts to trauma differently. You may experience any combination of these symptoms just after hearing about the event. With time, the symptoms tend to dissipate in their intensity. 

However, some people experience these symptoms for several months or years, and they may develop PTSD as a result. That’s why it’s so essential to pay attention to your physical and emotional well-being during this vulnerable time. 

Coping With Secondary Traumatic Stress

People struggling with secondary traumatic stress may downplay or minimize their symptoms. They may feel guilty for having these symptoms in the first place. After all, if you didn’t experience the trauma firsthand, you may feel like you don’t deserve to react this way to someone else’s experiences.

But, as social creatures, it’s only natural that we are impacted by the events around us. It’s especially difficult to hear about traumatic experiences that have happened to people you know or interact with personally. Likewise, hearing and experiencing someone else’s trauma can make us that much more aware of our own sense of safety.  After hearing stories of terrible things happening to others, it only makes sense that you are a little more on “edge” in your own life.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Nobody can be supportive 24/7, and many people develop compassion fatigue as a result of overextending themselves. To best take care of yourself, you must practice setting healthy boundaries with yourself and other people. 

If you work in a helping profession, aim to implement limits around your job. After all, you cannot commit to providing excellent care if your own mental health is in shambles. Get in the habit of separating your professional life from your personal life. 

Remember that you can’t fix someone else’s feelings or experiences. You can provide nurturing, love, and validation, but you cannot hold yourself responsible for making someone else feel better. 

Practice Self-Care

There’s no doubt that recounting or listening to stories related to trauma can be exhaustive and consuming. Therefore, you must learn to recharge your batteries and take care of yourself regularly. This self-care means attuning to your physical and emotional needs. 

Make sure you are eating a well-rounded diet, exercising, and adhering to a healthy sleep schedule. It’s important to find time for things that bring you joy such as socializing with friends or participating in your hobbies.

Use Relaxation Strategies

Trauma tends to exacerbate both anxiety and depressive symptoms. Relaxation strategies are one of the best ways to help you restore a sense of balance. There are many different ways to learn new relaxation strategies either working with a therapist or on your own. The important thing is to try different strategies until you find what works best for you.

Healthy relaxation strategies can include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Guided visualization
  • Creative expression (drawing, journaling, photography, cooking)
  • Meditation
  • Spending time in nature
  • Praying
  • Pleasant, relaxing activities (massages, baths, saunas)

Seek Professional Support for Secondary Traumatic Stress

Secondary traumatic stress can impact anyone. You don’t need to undergo a trauma firsthand to struggle with the debilitating symptoms in its aftermath. 

Most importantly, you don’t need to struggle in silence. Therapy for secondary traumatic stress provides a nonjudgmental space for support and healing. It also offers viable tools for helping you cope when you feel depressed or overwhelmed.

How to Begin Therapy for Secondary Traumatic Stress in Nashville, TN

If you have been experiencing increased anxiety or other mental health symptoms in response to someone else’s trauma, then it may be time to seek professional mental health support. Taking care of your own mental and physical health is important to help you feel relief from secondary traumatic stress. Follow these steps to begin counseling in Nashville, TN:

  1. Contact our office to schedule a free 30-minute face-to-face consultation, then
  2. Meet with one of our supportive therapists, and then
  3. Begin feeling relief from secondary traumatic stress.

Other Services Provided by Willow Counseling, PLLC

Our Nashville, TN counseling clinic provides quality, trauma-informed mental health services in our Nashville, TN counseling office. Our therapists help “helpers” such as medical professionals, therapists, and first responders, but also people from any walk of life. In fact, we offer a variety of other mental health services at our Nashville counseling office to help you on your healing journey, including help for anxietytherapy for compassion fatigue, and group therapy for anxiety. Whatever the specific situation is bringing you into counseling, our therapists want to help. Above all, we want to help you rediscover your purpose and find joy again. Through counseling, you’ll be able to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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