Top Ten Strategies to Overcome Secondary Traumatic Stress

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Top Ten Strategies to Overcome Secondary Traumatic Stress

Secondary traumatic stress (STS), known as compassion fatigue, is a condition that affects individuals who regularly work with or are exposed to trauma survivors. This stress significantly impacts the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of healthcare workers, first responders, caregivers, and other individuals in the helping profession. Focusing on self-care—making a healthy diet, exercise, and regular sleep priorities—reduces adverse stress effects. Journaling—writing about feelings related to helping or caregiving and about anything that has helped or been comforting—can help make meaning out of negative experiences.

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Overview of Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS)

According to the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), “secondary trauma stress” refers to the natural aftermath of behaviors and emotions that often result from knowing about a traumatic event experienced by someone else and from the stress of helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” Each year, more than 10 million children in the United States experience additional natural disasters, abuse, and violence. These experiences can lead to significant emotional and behavioral problems that can profoundly disrupt children’s lives and bring them into contact with child welfare systems.

For therapists, child welfare workers, case managers, and other helping professionals involved in the care of traumatized children and their families, the basic act of listening to traumatizing stories can take an emotional toll that compromises professional functioning and reduces the quality of life. Individual and supervisory awareness of the impact of this indirect exposure to trauma, referred to as secondary traumatic stress, is an essential part of protecting the health of the worker and ensuring that children consistently receive the best possible care from those who are committed to helping them.

Our main aim in preparing this fact sheet is to provide a brief overview of secondary traumatic stress and its potential impact on childcare professionals. We also outline options for assessment, prevention, and intervention related to secondary stress and describe the elements necessary to transform child-serving organizations and agencies into systems that promote workforce resilience.

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Self-Care Strategies for Managing Secondary Traumatic Stress

In this article, we’ll explore the top ten strategies for overcoming secondary traumatic stress and maintaining personal well-being while providing support and care to those in need. These strategies are supported with the help of research, statistics, and expert knowledge to help individuals in high-stress occupations effectively cope with the emotional toll of their jobs.

showing the image of Secondary Traumatic Stress

Strategy 1: Self-Care and Personal Well-Being


Prioritizing self-care is critical to combating secondary traumatic stress. Engaging in activities that promote overall well-being, such as regular exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and hobbies, can build resilience and reduce stress levels. Taking time for yourself and engaging in activities outside of work can serve as a buffer against the emotional burden of traumatic experiences.


According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, healthcare workers who took care of themselves reported reduced stress levels and improved job satisfaction.

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Strategy 2: Seek Social Support


Building a strong support network is vital for individuals dealing with PTSD. Connecting with colleagues, peers, and loved ones who understand the challenges of the profession can provide a safe space to share experiences and emotions. Talking openly about work stress with others who can empathize and offer support can help professionals feel understood and less isolated.


The Journal of Traumatic Stress reports that social support plays a significant role in buffering the negative impact of secondary trauma on caregivers.

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Strategy 3: Establish Boundaries


Setting boundaries between work and personal life is crucial to preventing burnout. Knowing when to disconnect from work-related stressors and make time for yourself and your family helps maintain a healthy work-life balance. Creating a clear distinction between work and personal time can prevent stress from building up and allow professionals to recharge.


A study published in the Journal of Social Work Practice in Addictions found that professionals who implemented healthy boundaries experienced reduced levels of secondary traumatic stress.

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Strategy 4: Mindfulness and Meditation


Practicing mindfulness and meditation can effectively reduce stress and increase emotional resilience. Mindfulness involves staying in the present moment without judgment, while meditation helps individuals focus on their breath or specific thoughts to achieve relaxation. These techniques can help professionals stay focused and better cope with exposure to trauma.


A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that mindfulness-based interventions were associated with reduced stress and improved mental well-being among healthcare professionals.

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Strategy 5: Professional Supervision and Support


Regular professional supervision and support are vital for individuals working in high-stress environments. The supervision session provides space for debriefing, processing difficult cases, and seeking guidance from experienced colleagues or superiors. This can help prevent stress from building up and provide validation for the challenges professionals face in their work.


A survey published in the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation found that professionals who received regular supervision reported higher levels of self-care and a reduction in secondary symptoms of traumatic stress.

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Strategy 6: Cognitive Restructuring


Cognitive restructuring involves challenging and changing negative thought patterns that may contribute to secondary traumatic stress. By recognizing and reframing negative thoughts, individuals can develop a more positive and resilient mindset. This can help professionals see their work and its impact from a more constructive perspective.


According to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, cognitive restructuring was found to be effective in reducing trauma-related anxiety among first responders.

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Strategy 7: Engage in Creative Outlets


Expressing emotions through creative outlets, such as art, writing, or music, can be therapeutic and help individuals process their feelings related to secondary trauma. Engaging in creative activities provides an avenue for emotional expression and can serve as a healthy coping mechanism.


The Journal of Applied Arts & Health reported that engaging in creative activities positively impacts emotional well-being and reduces stress levels among trauma-exposed individuals.

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Strategy 8: Education and Training


Continuous updating of trauma-related knowledge and skills and coping strategies can enable professionals to better understand and manage the impact of secondary traumatic stress. Professional training in trauma-informed care and building resilience can increase professionals’ ability to cope with the emotional challenges of their work.


A study published in the Journal of Loss and Trauma found that professionals who participated in trauma-focused training reported increased self-efficacy in dealing with secondary trauma.

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Strategy 9: Practice Resilience-Building Exercises


Resilience-building exercises such as journaling about positive experiences, identifying strengths, and focusing on personal growth can improve the ability to cope with secondary traumatic stress. Developing a sense of resilience can help professionals bounce back from challenging situations and continue to provide compassionate care.


A research article published in the Journal of Happiness Studies highlighted that resilience-building interventions improved emotional well-being and reduced symptoms of trauma-related stress.

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Strategy 10: Recognize When to Seek Professional Help


It is essential to recognize when the burden of secondary traumatic stress becomes overwhelming and seek professional help when necessary. Professional therapists or counselors can provide guidance and support tailored to individual needs and offer tools to manage stress and support mental well-being.


A study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that individuals who sought professional help early on experienced significant improvements in their overall mental health and well-being.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: What is secondary traumatic stress (STS)?

Secondary trauma stress, also known as compassion fatigue, is a condition that affects individuals who work with or are exposed to trauma survivors. It is characterized by the emotional toll of witnessing the suffering of others.

Q: Who is at risk of experiencing secondary traumatic stress?

Professionals who regularly work with trauma survivors, such as healthcare workers, first responders, caregivers, and social workers, are at higher risk of experiencing STS.

Q: How does secondary traumatic stress affect individuals?

STS can lead to emotional exhaustion, feelings of helplessness, increased anxiety, and a reduced ability to empathize. It may also contribute to burnout and negatively impact personal well-being.

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Q: How can self-care help in overcoming secondary trauma stress?

Prioritizing self-care activities, such as exercise, adequate sleep, and hobbies, can build resilience and reduce stress levels, helping professionals cope with the emotional toll of their work.

Q: Is seeking social support important in dealing with secondary trauma stress?

Yes, building a strong support network can provide a safe space for professionals to share experiences and emotions, reducing feelings of isolation and promoting well-being.

Q: How can cognitive restructuring be beneficial in coping with STS?

Cognitive restructuring involves challenging negative thoughts and developing a more positive mindset, which can help professionals view their work in a constructive light, fostering resilience.

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Q: What role does professional supervision play in managing STS?

Regular professional supervision provides a space for processing difficult cases and seeking guidance, which can prevent the accumulation of stress and promote self-care.

Q: Can engaging in creative outlets help overcome STS?

Yes, expressing emotions through creative activities can be therapeutic, allowing professionals to process their feelings related to trauma and reduce stress levels.

Q: How important is recognizing when to seek professional help?

Recognizing when STS becomes overwhelming and seeking professional help is crucial to managing its impact on mental and emotional well-being. Therapists can provide specialized support tailored to individual needs.

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Q: Are resilience-building exercises effective in coping with STS?

Yes, resilience-building exercises, such as journaling and focusing on personal growth, can enhance professionals’ ability to cope with secondary traumatic stress and continue providing compassionate care.


Overcoming secondary trauma stress is crucial for the well-being of professionals in high-stress environments. By implementing these ten strategies, individuals can build resilience, manage stress, and continue supporting those in need while safeguarding their mental and emotional health. Recognizing the value of self-care, social support, and seeking professional help underscores the commitment of professionals to provide the best care possible while caring for themselves.

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