In sex work there is always a great deal of emphasis on sexual health, although our emotional and mental well-being are just as important. Healthy thinking and feeling good about ourselves increase the likelihood of us buying into safer practices with clients.

 

As sex workers, we must not neglect our mental and emotional well-being. We know that this is especially so in the environment of secrecy and the legal obstacles of sex work in the Caribbean. Navigating the police, ‘bikers’ or straight men who attack gay men in Jamaica; clients who refuse to pay or are abusive; standing on the streets all night without a sale can be extremely stressful. Added to this is the stigma associated with sex work. We should therefore develop mechanisms that will help us to cope, which may include joining support groups or deliberately taking steps to deal with self.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to gauge where you are at mentally:

  • How many hours did I work in the last week?
  • How do I see sex work?
  • Do I feel stressed most of the time? What do I do to relieve stress related to sex work?
  • Do I have time for ME?

 

If sex work causes you significant physical or mental stress, you may want to do things a bit differently. If you are working seven days a week, you may want to cut back on the number of days and make time for some activities that focus on you. Some sex workers advise taking at least two days off per week, some believe that for every seven days worked, sex workers should rest for a week. The decision regarding rest is totally up to you depending on your situation, but what is indisputable is that you must rest. 

 

You may want to find out if there are support groups for sex workers in your country and how to join these groups. Support groups can help you to unburden and get information and tips from other sex workers on how they deal with work related and other challenges. Outside of support groups, you could try writing as an avenue for expressing those deep thoughts and feelings.

 

Other ways to relieve stress include taking long hot baths at least once per week, hanging with close friends while on the job to allow for socialisation between clients, volunteering and meditation.

 

Another important thing to keep in mind is that there is no shame in accessing professional counselling if you desperately need it. Find out from your local sex worker organisation where you can access professional counselling.

 

Burnout

If you constantly feel disillusioned, helpless, and completely worn out, you may be suffering from burnout. When you are burnt out, problems will seem insurmountable.  Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. It is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout can sap your energy and leave you feeling helpless, hopeless and in some instances resentful.

Here are some signs you might be suffering from burnout:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Feeling sick a lot
  • Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and defeated
  • Feeling alone in the world and in the process isolating yourself from others
  • Taking out your frustration on others by being rude to clients
  • Adopting a sarcastic and cynical attitude towards sex work and clients
  • Feeling irritable and tearful
  • Finding it increasingly difficult to see the positive aspects of sex work (such as the money being earned)
  • Miserable for the whole day if you know you are working that night
  • No longer making an effort to look sexy and or appealing.

 

Preventing and/or treating burnout

If you recognize any of the warning signs of impending burnout in yourself, you should immediately take steps to get your life back in order. To prevent burnout, you need to ensure that your life does not revolve only around work. You must play as hard as you work. Here are some ideasto prevent burnout:

  • Talk to someone you trust about your feelings, like a close friend, counsellor or colleagues in your support group.
  • Set SMART goals for your life. Make sure the goals you have are tangible. You must identify what it is you want to achieve, ensure it is realistic. Do not set goals you cannot achieve – it will frustrate you.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and do not feed negativity
  • Develop and maintain a balance between your work and personal life.
  • Develop clearly defined boundaries with clients.
  • Work out your priorities and manage your time to reduce unnecessary daily stress.
  • Work reasonable hours.
  • Have realistic expectations of yourself and others.
  • Take plenty of breaks and do something you enjoy on days/nights off.
  • Take responsibility for your well-being and happiness.
  • Get back in touch with your sexuality
  • Nourish your emotional self by listening to soothing or inspirational music.

 

 

What can happen if burnout is not addressed?

If you ignore the warning signs of burnout, you may become very stressed, depressed or physically unwell. If you are burnt out, see a counsellor or doctor to discuss what is happening to you.