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.
Coping And Management Strategies
Identifying compassion fatigue can help you start taking steps to manage it. British Columbias Compass Mental Health Program has provided some tips for coping during these stressful times:
- Practise mindfulness throughout the day by being aware of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
- When you start to feel anxious, help yourself calm down by focusing on your breath and slowing down your breathing rate.
- If you feel overwhelmed and out of control, take a moment to think about what you do have control over and what you can change.
- Establish a good self-care routine that includes eating healthy, getting more exercise and getting enough sleep.
- Reach out to others for support, whether thats friends, family or a peer support group.
- Set aside time for meaningful activity and find ways to connect with loved ones.
- Take a break from the news and limit the time you spend online every day.
Were In This Together
As humans in 2020, were experiencing a new territory of trauma that social worker Brené Brown has referred to as a collective Effing First Time . Many of us are confused, tired, and hurting as the spotlight shines on many injustices and traumas in the world these days.
However, as we hurt together, we can also heal and move forward together.
Whether you are experiencing any sort of trauma firsthand or secondhand, there are resources in Sioux Falls and beyond to help you. Start by learning more about our work at the Compass Center, and please contact us anytime.
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The Cost Of Caring For Others In Emotional Pain
Even if you havent lost a job or a loved one to COVID-19, even if you havent been personally affected by the injustices against black, indigenous, and people of color , even if you arent aware of someone suffering from violence or trauma, and even if your life is relatively really good right now . . . you can still experience Compassion Fatigue as you observe and experience others suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.
This is because you care and have empathy for the people and world around you.
While the symptoms of Compassion Fatigue are commonly associated with caregivers such as healthcare professionals, paramedics, counselors they can occur within anyone who experiences direct or secondary exposure to traumatic events.
These days, thats a lot of us.
As we embrace empathy toward others who are experiencing trauma in various ways, its important to also recognize Compassion Fatigue in ourselves and learn how to manage the symptoms.
What Are The Signs Of Compassion Fatigue
Basically, the top 3 signs of compassion or empathy fatigue are:
While many of us experience at least one of these symptoms from time to time, experiencing all three at once can certainly be a sign of empathy or compassion fatigue.
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How To Cope With Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue will not go away by itself both Yip and Ruffin say. Its very treatable, but it requires a proactive approach. If youre concerned you or a loved one may be experiencing compassion fatigue, reach out for help. The effects of compassion fatigue can worsen without intervention.
Heres how caregivers can start to cope with compassion fatigue:
Who Should I Consult For Help In Overcoming Compassion Fatigue
There are many available options for support if you find that you are unable to address compassion fatigue on your own. Compassion fatigue can take a huge toll on the person who experiences it and it can spill into all areas of life. Time becomes an issue because the longer you wait the more overwhelming it can feel. Reach out and find a therapist or counselor who has expertise in trauma and compassion fatigue. It is therapeutic to have a trained listener who can guide you through the process of healing.
If compassion fatigue has impacted family relationships you may want to seek family counseling to help rebuild those relationships. Your counselor can offer insights on how to create more balance in your life. That counselor can also assist you with recognizing symptoms of compassion fatigue and offer ways to cope and manage the disabling symptoms that can arise.
Those suffering from compassion fatigue may also benefit from attending support groups with a trauma/compassion fatigue focus. Talking to other people who have had similar experiences with trauma and compassion fatigue can help normalize your feelings and help you to understand your reactions. Having people familiar with your type of work who are prepared to listen to you can have a healing component. Knowing you are not alone can be an additional source of comfort.
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Who Is At Risk For Compassion Fatigue
Helping professionals and chronic caregivers are the population that are most at risk for compassion fatigue. The nature of their jobs/care means they devote themselves to caring, healing, and protecting the people they come in contact with.
Here are more specifically defined professions that are at a higher risk for experiencing compassion fatigue:
- Nurses/Nurses Aides
- People who care for animals like veterinarians and animal rescue programs
- Chronic caregivers
It can be an occupational hazard where the cost of caring becomes too high for the caregiver. This was a term created by Charles R. Figley, PhD who has done extensive research on compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is more common in women because they tend to choose professions in the caring field. Researchers highlighted professionals that are most vulnerable. They discovered that those particularly susceptible to compassion fatigue include healthcare, emergency, and community service workers.6
Set Realistic Expectations For Yourself
Recognize that you cant fix everything and that carrying too many emotional burdens wont help the person youre hurting for. Set the expectation that you may, for example, advocate for someone experiencing trauma by volunteering or peacefully protesting against injustice. But that doesnt mean you should carry guilt when youre not actively doing those things, and doing so wont help the situation. Set boundaries for yourself about what you can do that is helpful and meaningful.
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The Psychology Of Vicarious Trauma
We are vulnerable to secondary traumatic stress and vicarious traumatization when working with trauma survivors .
But vicarious trauma is different from compassion fatigue and involves the changing of the helpers schemas because of exposure to the traumatic experiences of others .
Learning about the trauma of others can trigger profound shifts in how a helper understands themselves or others, which can be very distressing .
Compared to secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma is less observable, happening below the surface, as the helpers worldview is transformed. But distress and burnout symptoms can be common to both experiences .
As with secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma happens through empathic engagement with someone elses trauma. But while secondary traumatic stress often happens rapidly, vicarious trauma builds up over time through repeatedly hearing about other peoples trauma .
Signs Of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue can affect your ability to do your work or complete daily activities â at least temporarily. There are signs that can indicate that you, or someone you know or work with, might be developing compassion fatigue. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for:
Research shows that long-term stress can lead to moderate to severe mood swings â especially as you age. Some of the common signs of compassion fatigue due to excessive stress are:
- Drastic shifts in mood
- Becoming pessimistic or cynical
- Becoming overly irritable or quick to anger
A common sign of compassion fatigue is a dramatic withdrawal from social connections. This can become obvious in neglected friendships or relationships. You may feel emotionally disconnected from others or experience a sense of numbness in your personal or professional life.
Feeling Symptoms of Anxiety or Depression
Anxious or depressive feelings and actions are common responses to stressful or traumatic situations.
Compassion fatigue can leave you feeling anxious about the world around you â either viewing the world as dangerous or being extra cautious about personal and family safety. It can also leave you feeling depressed. You may feel demoralized or question your effectiveness as a professional.
Trouble Being Productive
Long-term stress can affect your memory and lead to difficulty concentrating on your work.
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How To Support A Loved One Who Is Experiencing Compassion Fatigue
Recognize that a loved one who is in a high risk group can be vulnerable to compassion fatigue. Watch for the warning signs and changes in behavior and personality. It is easy to overlook symptoms if you are not paying close attention. Do not allow silence and denial to continue for too long. These dynamics can cause the person who has compassion fatigue and family members to become increasingly isolated, frustrated, and angry. Remember one of the challenges of this diagnosis is people who have it may be in denial.
Gently inquire if you have concerns about a loved one and you see worrisome behavioral changes that are impacting them and their relationships. If a loved one is constantly talking about work in negative terms or seems to dread going into work encourage them to discuss this with you. You may need to take this first step to help them to explore the struggles they are having more honestly and productively. If your loved one is assuming a caregiver role in their personal life identify ways you can help ease the burden of caregiving that is occurring outside of work.
Focus On Compassion Satisfaction
Although this can be a challenge, directing your thoughts to focus on the good and not the bad is vital in preventing compassion fatigue. Trust me.
Familiarity with the concept of compassion fatigue, along with the signs and symptoms, allows nurses and other care giving providers to recognize the concept within themselves and amongst their colleagues.
Therefore, the first step in reducing compassion fatigue is to acknowledge its existence.
Mental health resource, GoodTherapy, highlights several signs compassion fatigue symptoms that you should be aware of when working in the healthcare setting. These include:
- Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship
- Poor job satisfaction
Although some of these may seem ambiguous or similar to symptoms of other various conditions, compassion fatigue can be detrimental to the quality of care delivered to patients and can impact a healthcare provider significantly both in and outside of the workplace.
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What Are Some Of The Signs Of Compassion Fatigue And Vicarious Trauma
Researchers have discovered that helpers, when they are overtaxed by the nature of their work, begin to show symptoms that are very similar to their traumatized clients. These symptoms can negatively affect the workplace and create a toxic work environment.
- Difficulty concentrating
- High attrition
- Negative outcomes
You Should Practice Self
Showing empathy and love for other people and helping them is heroic, but remember that you are also human.
These jobs are demanding, and sometimes, we forget that you, too, need compassion and assistance. Like a sponge, you absorb the persons hurt, sadness, and emptiness, and you end up exhausted.
You deserve the compassion and love youre giving, and dont forget to give that to yourself.
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Anger And Hatred Towards The Cause Or Perpetrators
When you work on cases where, for example, a child experiences extreme abuse, its normal to feel anger at the person who did it.
However, if anger becomes too much that it fills your heart with hate, and your work, judgments, and thoughts are affected, this is one of the signs of compassion fatigue.
Key Compassion Fatigue Symptoms
How can you know that youre experiencing compassion fatigue, though? Here are a few symptoms to look for:
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling detached or emotionally disconnected
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive drinking or substance use
This list isnt exhaustive, but its a good starting point for anyone feeling burnt out.
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What Factors Contribute To Cf/vt And Burnout
There are many reasons for which helping professionals can develop compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. These are described in Saakvitne and Pearlmans book Transforming the Pain :
Your current life circumstances, your history, your coping style and your personality type all affect how compassion fatigue may impact you.
Most helpers also have other life stressors to deal with. Many are in the sandwich generation meaning that they take care of both young children and aging parents in addition to managing a heavy and complex workload. Helpers are not immune to pain in their own lives and, in fact, some studies show that they are more vulnerable to life changes than people who do less stressful work.
Helpers often do work that other people dont want to hear about. They spend their time caring for people who are not valued or understood in our society. This may include individuals who are homeless, abused, incarcerated or chronically ill.
Furthermore, our working environments are often stressful and fraught with workplace negativity. This negativity is often a result of individual compassion fatigue, burnout and general unhappiness. The work itself is also very stressful. Dealing with clients/patients who are experiencing chronic crises, who have difficulty controlling their emotions, and/or those who may not get better can be draining.
Compassion Fatigue Vs Empathy Fatigue
The terms compassion fatigue and empathy fatigue are occasionally used interchangeably. But this can confuse the issue slightly, as some models of compassion fatigue dont agree on the role of empathy in the development of compassion fatigue.
According to Figley , without the ability to empathize, there is little room for compassion fatigue, because empathy is essential to helping work and experiencing the strains of caring. Empathic concern is our impetus to help those people that are suffering, for example, by providing our services as a therapist .
Our empathic response toward clients and patients is how we try to remedy a clients suffering and can lead us to share in their emotional responses. Compassion stress is the consequence of empathic responding and represents the ongoing desire to reduce the suffering of the client or patient .
If compassion stress is severe and/or compounded by other life stresses, it can lead to compassion fatigue , which can be emotionally overwhelming and make it more difficult to experience empathy .
However, a more recent model of compassion fatigue challenges the idea that it is empathy that makes us vulnerable to compassion fatigue . Instead, Coetzee and Laschinger suggest a lack of resources, the persons response to the distress, and inadequate positive feedback make us susceptible to compassion fatigue. Well get into these models in more detail a little further on.
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Examine Beliefs About Self
Its not enough to just go through the motions of self-care, emphasizes Schwanz. It needs to be a legitimate attempt. In our society, we applaud people who work themselves to death, who neglect their own self-care to help others, says Schwanz. We rarely applaud people for taking the day off. Psychologists may have internalized this message, viewing self-care as selfish, says Schwanz, who is studying such beliefs relationship with compassion fatigue. As a result, psychologists may not reap the benefit of any self-care efforts they make, because they engage in behaviors such as worrying about work on a day off. And psychologists shouldnt feel guilty about taking time for fun and laughter during this sad, anxious time, adds Thomas Skovholt, PhD, of the University of Minnesota. Playing games, watching funny movies and the like can replenish the energy needed to help others, he says. Even a tiny dose of positive emotion, such as noticing flowers blooming, can help.
What Can Cause Compassion Fatigue
Before we proceed with the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue, we must first understand what can cause it.
Healthcare workers and chronic caregivers are the most susceptible people to compassion fatigue. Their job description requires them to care, listen, and devote themselves to caring and healing.
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Watch For These Symptoms Of Compassion Fatigue
The sooner you notice signs of compassion fatigue, the sooner you can care for yourself and replenish your stores of empathy. Be on the lookout for:
- Feeling exhausted physically and psychologically
- Feeling helpless, hopeless or powerless
- Feeling irritable, angry, sad or numb
- A sense of being detached or having decreased pleasure in activities
- Ruminating about the suffering of others and feeling anger towards the events or people causing the suffering
- Blaming yourself and having thoughts of not having done enough to help the people who are suffering
- A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
- A change in your worldview or spirituality
- Physical symptoms, including sleep and appetite disturbances, nausea and dizziness