Attention Caregivers: Tips on Combating Compassion Fatigue
CompassionFatigue.Org defines “compassion fatigue” as elevated displays of chronic stress resulting from the caregiving work done by health care professionals and others within our communities. Oftentimes, the type of person that is drawn to these professions has a habit of allowing the task of caring for others to take priority over their own health. Studies show that most caregivers display signs of compassion fatigue before ever entering into their profession. These people often connect their identity strongly as being someone who cares for others.
What kind of people or professions are most likely to experience compassion fatigue?
While this list is not complete, it provides an idea of the types of professions that experience compassion fatigue. Some of these professionals deal with a magnitude of the devastation and are also required to perform under stressful or terrifying conditions.
- Medical doctors, nurses
- Firefighters and EMT’s
- Psychologists and Therapists
- Police officers and social workers
- Childcare workers and educators
- Counselors and spiritual leaders
- Child advocates and lawyers
Some of these caregiving roles are not even paid professions:
- Adult children caring for the elderly generation
- Parents of sick or disabled children
- Charity workers and missionaries
- Human rights advocates
What are the signs that Compassion Fatigue is affecting me or someone I love?
Caring for others who are ill, injured, disabled or abused comes with its toll on our own health. When we force ourselves to rise to the occasion for those in need, it’s easy to neglect our own well-being. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the nature of compassion fatigue so you can fine-tune your awareness.
Here are a few ways compassion fatigue can show up in your life:
Mental Stress: Inability to concentrate and focus, short term memory loss, delayed word retrieval in conversation, feeling dazed
Spiritual Stress: questioning your beliefs about hope and peace, not wanting to engage in spiritual socialization
Physical Stress: headaches, insomnia, body fatigue and aches, indigestion, and chills
Emotional Stress: anxiety, irritability, impatience, depression, tearfulness, lack of interest in favorite pastimes
The stressors of 2020 have been relentless: a world pandemic, civil unrest throughout the nation, humanitarian crises abroad, and now hurricanes barreling down on our coasts. It is no wonder someone who chooses to be in a caregiving career may be feeling like their own health is compromised with everything unfolding this year.
What can I do to combat compassion fatigue?
These tips will be helpful through any time in your life, but particularly when tragic and violent events are taking place within our communities. It’s safe to say these new hardships in our nation (and the world) are easily compounding our worries and feelings of helplessness. This puts tons of added pressure on caregivers, who may try to escape their personal/professional struggles with social media and television only to find more problems when they log on.
Here are some ways to ensure your overall health gets its fighting chance during the most difficult of times.
1.) Recognize and Respect the Cabin Pressure Rule
Flight attendants are right. Your mask must go on first so that you can help others through the crisis.
This means you must allow yourself:
- adequate sleep
- plenty of water
- nutritious food to fuel your body and mind,
- time for mental decompression and exercise
- opportunities for spiritual connection (if it is meaningful to you.)
Recognize that if you are neglecting your own needs, those who you care for will ultimately suffer.
2.) Start with the Serenity Prayer (No, really)
Look at it spiritually or logically. The simplest step to reducing your stress is to eliminate the unnecessary portions, a.k.a. “things you have no control over.” Identify that list of stressors that are out of your control, then formulate a plan to spend less time/energy on it or let it go completely.
A few ideas:
- make some small donations to causes on your heart
- shoot someone an encouraging text
- meditate on releasing the burden
- journal about it
3.) Your Energy is a Finite Resource: Protect it
Compassionate caregivers can become easily entrenched in conflicts, often as a mediator. This can be especially draining when loved ones are on both sides of a conflict. It is important to be selective when giving time and energy to other parties, specifically ones in which you are a bystander.
Additionally, it is important to recognize relationships that carve away from your ability to care for yourselves and your true responsibilities. Create boundaries and master the art of saying “no” so you don’t burn the candle at both ends. This is a crucial skill to survival.
Tough love: This also means putting a limit on the amount of time you spend getting sucked into low-quality social media, tv and other content that is not uplifting for your well-being. See next tip for what to do instead.
4.) Dose Yourself with the Antidotes Daily
Heal and refuel your energy by seeking joy, laughter, peace, and gratitude. Give your cat or dog a belly rub or cuddle time. Take a brisk walk to reset your mind and spirit. Spend a half-hour in nature or gardening. Try your luck at a DIY craft. Meditate somewhere serene. Make yourself a cup of tea and list some things you are thankful for. Find a funny comedy special or podcast to get you giggling. Dose yourself with a some daily happiness to keep compassion fatigue at bay.
Combat Compassion Fatigue (for good) in 2020
There has never been a more important time to clarify what is best for your overall well-being than in these times of crisis in our country. As you consider ways you can improve your mental and spiritual health, keep in mind that caring for yourself is an extension of caring for everyone else you are responsible for.
Use this new mindset to help you create a higher standard for yourself so you can continue to bless our world with your gifts of caring, bravery, and compassion. We need you!