COMPASSION FATIGUE & SELF CARE BY MILEY FLOWERS, LMT
So many of us work in helping professions – teachers, social workers, caregivers, health care professionals, parents – the list goes on. We love what we do, and we do it because we care. But is it possible that we care too much?
Compassion Fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring” and while it does not rise to the level of burnout, it can have serious impacts on our work, relationships, and our health. The good news is that it’s preventable and treatable, but you need to be aware of its warning signs:
* Chronic Exhaustion
* Reduced ability to feel sympathy or empathy
* Anger and Irritability
* Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
* Dread of working with certain clients/patients/students
* Diminished enjoyment of career
* Hypersensitivity or insensitivity to emotional matters
* Difficulty separating work and personal life
* Absenteeism – taking excessive sick/personal days
* Problems with intimacy and personal relationships
We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.” Self care is at the heart of prevention and treatment of Compassion Fatigue. If you’ve never actively engaged in developing your own self care plan, it may feel overwhelming. The trick is to keep it simple. Work on one thing at a time and don’t beat yourself up for going off track every once in a while. Changing habits is not easy and takes time and patience with oneself. When incorporating prevention and treatment of Compassion Fatigue into your self care plan, these tips will help you get started:
1. Identify and acknowledge the emotions you feel in different situations. Ask yourself with an honest and open heart and mind, “I wonder why I am feeling this way?” Keep mental notes or write them down in a journal. By simply bringing your awareness to your emotions you will be able to work through them more efficiently and productively.
2. Develop a “Disconnect from Work” routine. Allow time between work and home to breathe some space between the two. Mentally review your day –
what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what needs to be on your to-do list for tomorrow? Finally, give yourself permission to let go of your professional day and move forward to your personal day.
3. Get moving! If you find yourself in a mid-day rut, or after you’ve worked with a particularly difficult client, go for a walk, get some fresh air and reset. If you don’t have time for a 10-minute walk, stand up, take some slow deep breaths, and stretch out for just a couple minutes before seeing your next client.
4. Find your passion and go for it! Having a hobby that you can completely throw yourself into after a rough day is one of the most nourishing things you can do for your soul. Allow yourself to be creative and exercise a different part of your brain – it will go a long way in relieving stress and preventing Compassion Fatigue.
5. Keep an active sense of humor and laugh it off. When we spend a majority of our day being serious and compassionate it can be hard to let go and get silly. Find a healthy and appropriate outlet to engage your sense of humor by sharing stories, and allowing yourself to have a good laugh at something that might have otherwise brought you down.
You may have found yourself reading this and thinking, “I don’t have time for this self care stuff!” (or any other slew of excuses you might be coming up with right now). I would ask that you stop and consider that perhaps you don’t have time not to engage in self care. Habits are not easily changed, but when they are and your life regains a sense of balance, you may just find yourself wondering why you didn’t place more importance on these things in the first place.