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10 Tips for Taking Care of Your Well-being as a New Humanitarian Aid Worker

Stephen Thompson, MA, CCWS, CHRS
Sr. Specialist, Global Staff Care & Well-being


Starting a career in the humanitarian aid and development industry is filled equally with rewards and challenges. As you embark on this journey, it’s crucial to prioritize your well-being to ensure both your personal resilience and professional effectiveness. Humanitarian work is profoundly fulfilling but comes with unique stressors and demands. The information provided here will equip you with practical tips to navigate these challenges and sustain your well-being as you start your career in this field.


Challenges of Humanitarian Work

Humanitarian aid workers often face a multitude of challenges that can impact their well-being:

  1. Culture Shock: Deployments to unfamiliar regions or countries can lead to culture shock, affecting your emotional and psychological adjustment.
  2. Security Threats: Working in crisis zones exposes you to security risks and uncertainties, necessitating constant vigilance and adaptation to new safety protocols.
  3. New Deployments: Each new deployment brings logistical and emotional adjustments, from adapting to local customs to setting up living arrangements.
  4. Mission-Driven Work: The passion and urgency behind humanitarian missions can be inspiring and emotionally taxing, affecting your sense of purpose and fulfillment.
  5. Trauma and Compassion Fatigue: Witnessing suffering and trauma can lead to compassion fatigue, where emotional exhaustion and desensitization occur due to continuous exposure to distressing events.
  6. Being Away from Home or Loved Ones: Extended periods away from home and loved ones can lead to feelings of isolation, homesickness, and longing for familiar support systems.


Understanding these challenges is essential to proactively managing your well-being as a humanitarian aid worker. Consider the following tips as you begin your new career as a humanitarian aid worker:

10 Well-being Tips for New Humanitarian Aid Workers

  1. Prioritize Self-Care: Allocate time for activities that rejuvenate you, such as exercise, hobbies, and downtime. Self-care is not selfish; it’s essential for sustained productivity and resilience.
  2. Seek Cultural Understanding: Invest time in learning about local cultures and customs to navigate cultural differences and respectfully enhance your community integration.
  3. Stay Informed and Prepared: Stay updated on security protocols and adhere to safety guidelines meticulously. Preparedness reduces anxiety and helps you respond effectively in crisis situations.
  4. Build a Support Network: Cultivate relationships with colleagues, mentors, and other aid workers. A strong support network provides emotional grounding and practical advice.
  5. Set Boundaries: Learn to say no when necessary and establish boundaries to manage workloads effectively. Protecting your time and energy is crucial for sustained performance.
  6. Stay Connected with Loved Ones: Maintain regular communication with family and friends back home through calls, messages, or video chats. Sharing experiences and feelings can provide comfort and support.
  7. Practice Mindfulness: Develop mindfulness practices like meditation or deep breathing to manage stress and enhance emotional resilience.
  8. Acknowledge and Address Trauma: Seek professional support or counseling if you experience symptoms of trauma or compassion fatigue. Processing emotions is vital for long-term well-being.
  9. Maintain Work-Life Balance: Strive for a balance between work and personal life. Disconnect during downtime to recharge and prevent burnout.
  10. Celebrate Achievements: Acknowledge your contributions and successes, no matter how small. Celebrating achievements fosters motivation and a positive outlook.


Supporting Your Long-term Career and Well-being

In conclusion, by implementing these tips early in your humanitarian career, you invest in your sustainability and effectiveness as an aid worker. Prioritizing well-being isn’t just about personal comfort; it’s a strategic choice that empowers you to make a lasting impact in the humanitarian field. Remember, your well-being is fundamental to your ability to serve others effectively. Stay mindful, seek support when needed, and keep nurturing your resilience—it’s the foundation of a sustainable humanitarian journey.

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