Self-Care and Mindfulness

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    Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

    “This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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    "Shining Light on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Toolkit to Build Understanding" is a toolkit designed to be a resource for multidisciplinary professionals, policy makers, volunteers, faith communities, and others involved in anti-trafficking work. While the information provided on each topic is in no way exhaustive, you will find additional resources to facilitate further study. Each topic is addressed in three sections: First, the “what?”– what we know about the topic which includes a review of what we know from both research and the field. “So what?” addresses what this means – the reason this information is important to understand and how it will enhance our response to trafficking. “Now what?” considers the implications of this information in practice - how the information can be used to enhance our response to human trafficking. This includes specific implications for mentoring relationships, when applicable.  


    Stress is a natural component of everyday life. However, those who work in direct service professions (either as volunteers or career professionals) will likely encounter additional stress because of the nature of their responsibilities. These individuals walk alongside and support people who are navigating various stages of their healing journey. They are exposed to stories about past and current trauma, and such exposure can have a significant impact.1,2,3 Staff and mentors working with young people who have been commercially sexually exploited can experience what is referred to as vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, or secondary traumatic stress. This occurs when a staff or mentor goes beyond hearing about trauma to re-experiencing it along with the person.2,3,4 The continual exposure to traumatic material can result in both physical and psychological symptoms.5 The accumulation of this stress over a period of time increases the risk for compassion fatigue and burnout. Self-care and mindfulness can be effective ways for staff and mentors to manage the additional stressors of supporting victims/survivors.

    • Self-care is the way a person tends to their emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being. It is foundational to maintaining health and wellness.6
    • Mindfulness is being purposefully aware and present to experiences moment by moment.7
      • Mindful individuals tend to perceive difficult situations as less stressful and use more adaptive coping strategies in response to stress.8
      • Mindfulness can be learned and practiced in a structured or unstructured manner.7
    • Individuals who engage consistently with mindfulness techniques and self-care often experience greater emotional stability, more adaptive responses to negative events, and more adaptive regulation of stress.8

    So What?

    Often used interchangeably, compassion fatigue and burnout are two distinct constructs that often affect those providing direct services.4 It is not uncommon for these two issues to overlap in the lives of staff and mentors.4,9  If left unaddressed, compassion fatigue and burnout can have significant consequences for both the individual and the organization. Compassion fatigue is a state of tension and preoccupation with the traumatized individual, and is characterized by re-experiencing the person’s traumatic events, avoidance of or numbing of reminders, and persistent arousal (e.g., anxiety) associated with the individual.Compassion fatigue focuses on the effects of working closely with those who have experienced trauma.4,5,10 Compassion fatigue may cause staff or mentors who are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation or other abuse to re-experience or “flashback” to their own trauma. In contrast, burnout “reflects an uneasy relationship between people and their work”.10 Burnout is a multifaceted condition consisting of exhaustion, cynicism, detachment from work, and feelings of inefficacy that ultimately result in apathy and general dislike for one’s work.5,10 With burnout, there is no specific exposure to trauma; it can affect those in all types of professions and is the result of continued exposure to a demanding or high stress work environment.10 In order to be the most effective volunteer or helping professional, it is extremely important to take care of yourself.

    • Mindfulness and self-care can prevent and/or treat burnout.7
    • Mindfulness is positively associated with life satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive affect.8
    • Self-care is about prioritizing and taking care of your own physical, emotional, and mental health needs.11
    • To properly care for other’s biological, psychological, social, and spiritual health needs, you must first attend to your own needs.11

    Now What?

    General Practice Implications


    • Be aware of your own risk factors and predisposition to developing burnout.7
    • Take intentional steps to ensure you have balance between your personal life and other commitments (work, volunteer time, etc.).
      • Small steps go a long way. Eat well, exercise, make sleep a priority, get outside, attend to your relationships, make time for a hobby, drink plenty of water, etc.
      • Create a self-care plan.11
      • Identify ways to practice self-care that attend to your biological, psychological, social, and spiritual health.
      • Commit to practicing at least one self-care activity each week (i.e. yoga, meditation, journaling).
    • Consider practicing mindfulness to mitigate burnout in the following ways7:
      • Read mindfulness books and websites.
      • Watch or listen to guided mindfulness and tutorials.
      • Attend a local mindfulness group (i.e. meet-up groups, spiritual groups).
      • Enroll in a mindfulness course (i.e., college or continuing education offerings).

    Mezzo/Service Providers

    • It is important to create a healthy and responsive organizational culture where systemic stress factors are addressed.6
      • Encourage staff to take vacation time/mental health days.
      • Promote wellness in the workplace (i.e. make healthy snacks available, hold a fitness competition, try a yoga lunch break).
      • Engage in a monthly social activity.
      • Allow for some flexibility in the work schedule. (i.e. work one day a month from home, come in later and stay later, etc.).
      • Encourage employees to take short breaks (1-5 minutes) every 90 to 120 minutes. Remind them to mindfully stretch, breathe, or walk during those breaks.12
      • Schedule additional individual and/or group debriefs when challenging or stressful situations occur. Establish and require regularly scheduled supervision sessions for staff and mentors
      • Implement effective safety engagement protocols to ensure that staff and mentors feel safe.
      • Create a crisis response plan. Ensure that staff and mentors know how to respond in crisis and are properly cared for afterward.
    • Make sure the staff or volunteer workload is not overly burdensome and that they are using their talents in a manner that is meaningful.5
    • Foster a sense of community. People do their best work when they feel connected to their colleagues and have no unresolved issues.5
      • Offer regular opportunities for staff and mentors to celebrate successes, talk through challenges, and debrief challenging situations.


    • Offer free events to engage the community in self-care activities (i.e. yoga, mindfulness, healthy cooking classes, etc.).

    Mentoring Practice Implications


    • Ensure you are building self-care into your routine. Mentoring, particularly for youth involved in commercial sexual exploitation, can take an emotional toll.
    • Establish and maintain proper boundaries with your mentee to prevent burnout. Check in with program staff for support and self-care resources.
    • Consider adding self-care practices into mentor/mentee activities. Modeling these practices for youth can help them develop healthy strategies to cope with stress.

    Mezzo/Service Providers

    • Offer support for mentors. Ensure that program staff check in often to ask about successes and challenges, as well as to debrief difficult situations.
    • Integrate self-care into your mentor training so they understand its importance in the context of their role as a mentor. Provide practical suggestions and let me know that you will check in with them periodically to see how their self-care plan is working.
    • Plan volunteer appreciation nights to honor the hard work and the many hours that mentors contribute to our organization. Rewards, even small ones, can help prevent burnout.5


    • Create a culture where self-care is discussed and prioritized.



    1. Bride, B. E. (2007). Prevalence of secondary traumatic stress among social workers. Social Work52(1), 63-70.
    2. Killian, K. D. (2008). Helping till it hurts? A multimethod study of compassion fatigue, burnout, and self-care in clinicians working with trauma survivors. Traumatology14(2), 32.
    3. Showalter, S. E. (2010). Compassion fatigue: What is it? Why does it matter? Recognizing the symptoms, acknowledging the impact, developing the tools to prevent compassion fatigue, and strengthen the professional already suffering from the effects. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, 27(4). 239-242.
    4. Adams, R. E., Boscarino, J. A., & Figley, C. R. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: a validation study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry76(1), 103.
    5. Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology52(1), 397-422.
    6. Monk, L. (2011, January). Self-care: An ethical imperative. Perspectives33(1), 4-7.
    7. Luken, M., & Sammons, A. (2016). Systematic review of mindfulness practice for reducing job burnout. American Journal of Occupational Therapy70(2), p1-p10. doi:10.5014/ajot.2016.016956
    8. Friese, M., & Hofmann, W. (2016). State mindfulness, self-regulation, and emotional experience in everyday life. Motivation Science2(1), 1-14. doi:10.1037/mot0000027
    9. Jenkins, S. R., & Baird, S. (2002). Secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma: A validation study. Journal of Traumatic Stress15(5), 423-432.
    10. Maslach, C, Leiter, M. (2005). Reversing burnout: How to rekindle your passion for your work. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 3(4). 42-49.
    11. Butler, L. (n.d.). Developing your self-care plan. Retrieved from
    12. Overholt, M. & Vickers, M. (2014). Stress Management and Mindfulness in the Workplace. American Management Association International.

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