Engage In Mindful Caregiving
Did you know compassion is a skill you can work on? There is a meditation called Loving-Kindness meditation by Tara Brach, and a study on it was done which resulted in increased altruism in participants. They developed compassionate thoughts and reflections which impacted compassionate action and deeds. Such mental activities led to changes in the brain. According to Feel Guide, People who received the compassion training showed increased activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others, regulating emotions, and positive feelings in response to a reward or goal.
You might think, Im burned out on compassion. Why would I want to do a compassion meditation? The point is to make yourself available to people with intention for compassion and to remove codependency and let go of control. Letting go is what does the work for you.
The Loving-Kindness Meditation by Tara Brach starts with:
May I be happy.
Empathy Fatigue Or Compassion Fatigue Can Hit Any Counsellor Caregiver Or Therapist
Because it triggers certain fears and thoughts that represent those fraudulent schemas that we all secretly have, at least to some degree! This intellectual self-doubt can have even the most experienced and accomplished counsellor or caregiver feeling like an imposter what gives me the right to be hereI feel like a fake.
These thoughts can be quite confronting and difficult to talk about. And while they can surface for many reasons, compassion fatigue is a big one.
Set A Schedule That Works For You
Choose a work schedule that allows you to balance your work and personal life. Mallorie Resendez Bassetti, a practicing nurse-midwife based in Arizona, recommends working a schedule that makes the most sense for your well-being. If working only night shifts proves too taxing, switch to day shifts, or alternate your days.
“Just because it seems like everyone is working three 12-hour shifts, or all new nurses start on nights, does not mean that you have to also,” Bassetti points out. “The beauty of our field is how diverse it is.”
Overworking can also lead to compassion fatigue. Try maintaining the option to drop down to a part-time schedule when necessary.
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Compassion Fatigue Prevention For Individuals
There are several strategies that individuals can use to help prevent compassion fatigue, but the key is to practise self-awareness so that you can spot any signs or symptoms before an issue arises. Being able to check in with your thoughts, feelings and emotions and notice any changes is a vital skill to learn not just to help prevent compassion fatigue, but for other issues such as burnout too. Other prevention methods include:
- Taking regular breaks and using up all available holiday time where possible. Discuss this with management if you feel as though youre not able to do so
- Discussing overwhelming or stressful workloads with managers to put a strategy in place to reduce them
- Undertaking training in resilience or methods such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
- Allowing yourself to set firm boundaries at work and for those you care for
- Seeing a therapist or other mental health professional that can help you work through concerns
- Focusing on the Five Foundations of Wellness to improve overall wellbeing and practise self-care. These include The Basics , Physical Health , Connection , Mental Wellbeing , and Growth (learning and self-development. You can take our free Five Days to Better Wellbeing email course here to learn and develop each of these areas.
Acceptance And Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that emphasizes processes such as psychological flexibility, mindfulness, acceptance, and values in assisting people in overcoming obstacles in their lives. ACT operates under the basic assumption that discomfort, self-doubt, suffering, and fear are a normal and unavoidable part of human experience. An individuals attempts to control or avoid painful experiences eventually lead to long-term suffering. The goal of ACT is not to eliminate certain parts of ones experience of life, but rather to learn how to experience life more fully, without as much struggle, and with vitality and commitment. Further, goals of ACT include reduction of suffering, increase of psychological flexibility, and an increase in ones opportunity to change their behavior and engage in committed action toward their valued goals and outcomes.
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What About Compassion Fatigue Prevention
While learning how to treat compassion fatigue is important its even more important to understand how to prevent it, especially given the fact that its onset can be quite sudden. Given that empathy is not in endless supply, its important to know how to make sure the cup is never empty.
We can do this by learning how to be self-aware and practising self-compassion. Preventing empathy fatigue is all about ensuring a balanced lifestyle. By integrating these four elements into your life, you will undoubtedly reduce your risk of developing compassion fatigue.
Early Warning Signs Of Compassion Fatigue
The Society for Psychotherapy provides a list of compassion fatigue warning signs to watch for through self-reflection. Together, they give a good indication of whether you are meeting your self-care needs :
Ask yourself if the following warning signs apply:
- My patterns of eating, sleeping, or concentration have changed.
- I isolate myself from friends, family, and colleagues.
- I dont take regular breaks when working.
- I am bored and disinterested, and I dont enjoy my work as much as I did.
- I am easily irritated by my clients.
- I feel emotionally exhausted and drained after meeting some of my clients.
- I am not taking good care of myself overlooking my health and self-medicating.
- I find myself thinking of being elsewhere when I am with my clients.
- I find my work less rewarding than in the past.
- I regularly feel depressed, anxious, or agitated.
- I experience more headaches and other physical complaints.
- I cant concentrate and find myself staring into the distance.
Pay attention to the answers you give to each question and overall patterns they may indicate you are burned out or experiencing compassion fatigue. Engaging in self-care is not a nice-to-have, but a necessity for your own and your patients wellbeing.
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Not Recognizing Compassion Fatigue
Therapist and Aging Well Consultant Shelley Read, MSW, RSW, says, Developing an awareness of Compassion Fatigue in order that we recognize the symptoms is the first step.9 Responding to crisis is challenging in and of itself. When it feels as though there is not enough time and not enough resources to respond to those challenges, it can become overwhelming.
Burnout And Compassion Fatigue
Burnout is a special type of stress that caregivers and professionals may experience, including a sense of reduced accomplishment and physical and/or emotional exhaustion. Compassion fatigue encompasses a much greater level of stress and exhaustion, occurring as a result of helping others who experience emotional or physical pain, oftentimes referred to as the cost of caring however, someone presenting with compassion fatigue shows a significant decrease in the ability to empathize with others. Compassion fatigue is a type of secondary traumatic stress, which occurs as a result of helping or wanting to help others who are in need. Though they share similar features, burnout generally develops more slowly over a period of time, while compassion fatigue may have an unexpected onset and can occur without warning signs. Professionals and caregivers who experience compassion fatigue may react to situations differently from the way in which others typically respond, due to an erosion of compassion skills. A majority of individuals in any kind of helping profession experience at least some degree of burnout or compassion fatigue in their lives. Minimizing and managing ones stress are important for self-care and living life more fully. This leads to greater self-compassion, including self-kindness, mindfulness, and our shared humanity.
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Tips For Avoiding Compassion Fatigue
Avoiding compassion fatigue is all about setting boundaries. Here are my tips for staying healthy during this season of giving.
1. . Set this limit before you say yes to any requests and don?t feel guilty if you have to turn something down. Simply remind yourself that you?re doing what?s best for your health.
2. Save time for yourself to re-energize and time for your family. This season is also about family! Be sure to do the fun things that only happen during this season as a way to relax and re-energize with the people you love most. You could even make one of your charitable activities a family one!
3. Budget money for charities and remain true to that. Money issues can cause a lot of stress, so dont leave yourself strapped by giving too much.
Ways To Combat Pandemic Compassion Fatigue
As the pandemic drags on, we need empathy more than ever.
When my husband and I received emails from our employers telling us they were shutting down our offices, the pandemic suddenly felt very real and very scary.
I was flooded with a desire to help friends, family, and coworkers. Not knowing what I could do, I pledged to myself that Id be extra compassionate to others.
After all, we were all going through something incredibly stressful and unprecedented. Being kind and patient was the least I could do.
And it seemed like we were all a little extra compassionate with each other.
Managers were understanding of my crying baby in the background of virtual meetings, I was extra sensitive to my sons tears, and my husband and I were good at checking in with each other to see how we were handling all the stress.
But over time, that started to wear off.
Before long, both my husband and I found it easy to snap at each other. I found myself getting frustrated when my dog took too long on morning walks or easily frazzled when my son started to cry.
Sometimes, Id willingly avoid calls from family across the country because I didnt have the energy to listen to what was happening in their lives, especially if I suspected they were calling with bad news.
A sick dog, a COVID-19 diagnosis, or a lost job felt like too much.
Im not alone in feeling like this. Lots of friends and family have shared similar stories of feeling on edge or numb this year.
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Three Ways To Avoid Compassion Fatigue
Have you ever heard the story about the frog in boiling water? As the story goes, if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will jump right out. But if you put that same frog into a pot of cool water and slowly elevate the temperature, the frog will boil without knowing what is happening. This metaphor is often used to illustrate problems or situations that are harmful but often overlooked until it is too late. Both caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue are conditions that can slowly result in this boil.
These days, many frogs are boiling. The last 18 months of the pandemic have been difficult for everyone. A great deal has been articulated about the ill effects of isolation, threat of illness, and lack of structure for those with mental illness. Less information and conversation are available about the ill effects on the parents, spouses, and caregivers who bear varying levels of responsibility in their loved ones lives. The pandemic has certainly exacerbated the already challenging effects caregivers may experience, including exhaustion, feeling trapped, and feeling alone in their journey with a family member who lives with a mental health condition. The result of all this can be the slow to steady boil of compassion fatigue or caregiver burnout.
So, what exactly are compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout?
What Is Compassion Fatigue And How To Overcome It
Are you in a position where you are constantly helping others and youre starting to struggle? It may be compassion fatigue. While it may sound like something made up or harsh, the reality is that its something many people can suffer from. And, if youre struggling with it, there are ways to overcome it.
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is something that used to be seen more in healthcare-related positions. The American Institute of Stress defines it as what happens when someone that cares for traumatized people begins to experience emotional strain as a result of their work. It can be from working with one single case or through working in the field for years. Sometimes its referred to as second-hand shock.
Who does it impact?
There are many different people that can experience compassion fatigue. A few examples include:
- Healthcare workers
Its also been found that some attorneys who are exposed to graphic images or traumatic cases can be impacted by compassion fatigue as well.
The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project shares that some people entering a career as a helping professional already experience compassion fatigue. It can be something that people live with if they have grown up with a strong emphasis on caring for others first.
Symptoms of compassion fatigue
Some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue are the same as symptoms experienced by people living with chronic stress. This can include symptoms such as:
Find an outlet
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How To Avoid Compassion Fatigue During The Holidays
Most of us experience the holidays as the season of giving. We not only give Christmas presents, we often give more of our time and money to people we love or who are in need. Not only does this benefit the recipients by making them feel loved and appreciated, it is beneficial for the giver as well. Studies have shown that givers tend to have less stress and live longer lives.
But what if you give too much, especially during the holidays? This is the time of year when everyone, it seems, is appealing to our charitable natures. Not that that?s a bad thing. But stretching yourself too thin can sometimes lead to ?compassion fatigue?. Today I?ll explain what compassion fatigue is and how you can avoid it this holiday season.
Engage Your Workplace Wellness Program
Effective employee well-being programs offer supports for your physical, mental, emotional, and professional health. All too often, when budget crunches occur, one of the first cuts organizations make is to employee well-being programs and supports. Instead, focussing on supporting staff at all levels can save time and money by reducing sick days, increasing productivity, and decreasing resignations. Organizations that train managers to recognize signs of compassion fatigue and burnout, know how to respond with empathy, and provide necessary resources. Healthy, happy employees create healthy organizations that thrive.
Healthy, happy employees create healthy organizations that thrive.
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Experiencing Compassion Fatigue And How To Overcome It
The message is clear from both psychological insights and ancient spiritual traditions: the best way to overcome compassion fatigue is to be gentle with yourself. You have to learn how to manage sensitivity in a skillful way, to fill your cup, to allow you to support and serve others in the best way you can. This involves a certain level of self-awareness to know when you need to take time for yourself.
Of course, boundary setting is essential to avoid compassion fatigue. Without boundaries, youll overextend. Again theres a double-edged sword, because people who are particularly selfless tend to associate boundaries with selfishness. However, when understanding that setting boundaries allows you to ultimately serve from a healthier place, you can see they benefit others too.
Developing Compassion Fatigue Symptoms
Its easy to mistake compassion fatigue for burnout, but the two are different. Compassion fatigue is linked to the suffering of other people, and a numbing of empathy that originates from feeling overwhelmed. Burnout, on the other hand, can relate to all areas of life, be it from too much work, or stress levels for various life circumstances.
According to the University of Washington, compassion fatigue emerges more quickly than burnout and is easier to overcome. They identify various compassion fatigue symptoms, which include:
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What Are The Symptoms Of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue can take a physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and professional toll.10 The American Academy of Family Physicians 11 provides the following list outlining the warning signs of compassion fatigue and notes that although symptoms vary, the following red flags may indicate that you have compassion fatigue.12
Abusing drugs, alcohol or food
Are You Experiencing Compassion Fatigue
As psychologists continue to help those suffering from the impact of COVID-19, they should watch for signs of their own distress or burnout.
Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?
Psychologist Heidi Allespach, PhD, of the University of Miamis Miller School of Medicine, knows that the big hearts that propel people into psychology and other caregiving careers also put them at risk of developing compassion fatigue. Ironically, she explains, caregivers can become so over-empathic that they find themselves growing numb to their patients suffering. Thats why she urges the medical residents she teaches to develop what she calls a semi-permeable membrane around their hearts. Without enough of a shield, everything just comes in, says Allespach. And being overwhelmed with the feelings of others can feel like drowning.
Now Allespach and other psychologists are worried that psychologists are facing increased risks of compassion fatigue as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on.
Compassion fatigue occurs when psychologists or others take on the suffering of patients who have experienced extreme stress or trauma, explains Charles R. Figley, PhD, founder of the Traumatology Institute at Tulane University. It is an occupational hazard of any professionals who use their emotions, their heart, he says, and represents the psychological cost of healing others. Its like a dark cloud that hangs over your head, goes wherever you go and invades your thoughts, he says.
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