Written by: Farrah Khan
The fall semester always feels like a sprint, no matter how many of us prepare—holding space for survivor support needs, navigating systems, fulfilling training requests, not to mention the politics of the work on campus. By December, the intensity of the pace can wear us all down, no matter how great our team and support system are, or the various forms of therapy, movement work, and mindfulness we do.
I try to remember that the systems we work in burn us out, not the work. If institutions, governments, and larger society were committed to ending gender-based violence, this field would be sustainably funded, resulting in us having the time to do this work without feeling stretched. While we all wait for the revolutionary time, we can do some things to mitigate working in the field. Lately, I have been working to attend to my nervous system, specifically understanding my window of tolerance, when I feel full as a frontline GBV worker.
Dr. Dan Siegel developed the concept of the window of tolerance to describe the optimal zone for a person to manage and cope with emotions effectively. For many anti-gender-based violence service providers, our window of tolerance may get narrower due to systemic pressures. When this happens, it is often difficult to regulate emotions and stay grounded in the present to do our work, let alone attend to our personal lives.
If you feel a bit crunchy like me right now, I invite you to learn more about TIPP skills described in dialectical behavioural therapy that Marsha Linehan created. Each of the TIPP skills is a way to be more present and attend to emerging feelings in this work. TIPP stands for:
T: Temperature – Cooler temperatures can slow down our heart rate. We can splash our face with cold water, go outside in the cold for a few moments, or hold an ice cube. It helps bring us into the present.
I: Intense Exercise – Engaging in cardio or aerobic exercises can redirect built-up energy and de-escalate intense emotions. Do jumping jacks, jog, or dance. For me, I do movement throughout the day to release intense feelings. I’m not an athletic person by any means, so dance breaks in between meetings or a walking meeting over a Zoom conversation are some of the ways I incorporate movement.
P: Paced Breathing – Try taking slow deep breaths and count the seconds to lower your heart rate. You can visualize the air entering and dispersing throughout your body on your inhales and your exhales exiting your body, taking the anxiety, distress, and panic along with them. I like placing my hands on my stomach, feeling the rise and fall as I breathe.
P: Paired Muscle Relaxation – This one takes a bit of practice. Try tensing your muscles as you breathe in for 5-6 seconds and then relaxing the muscles as you breathe out. You can notice the difference between the feeling of tension and the feeling of relaxation. When I do this throughout my body, I try to send love to the area I tense and release, thanking it for being a part of me, holding me together throughout the day.
None of these are magic in that they will end the impacts of working in a challenging field, but they can help reduce the harm. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate your feelings and the impacts of doing this work. Implementing TIPP is an opportunity to create daily moments where you attend to and prioritize your well-being.
Suggested Citation: Khan, Farrah. (2021, December). TIPPs for Attending to the Impacts of Working in the Anti-Gender-Based Violence Movement. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/tipps