This week we would like to focus on you!
As healthcare, emergency and/or community service professionals we are privileged to be able to offer our skills and compassion to those suffering from physical and emotional health challenges, yet while doing so we must attend to our own needs to sustain our physical, mental, emotional and personal support systems to avoid “compassion fatigue” and burnout.
What is compassion fatigue? Compassion fatigue is a potential problematic response when caring for others — it is more formally referred to as vicarious or secondary trauma, referencing the way that other people’s trauma can become our own.
Compassion fatigue occurs when we, consciously or unconsciously, take on the suffering of patients who are experiencing or have experienced extreme stress, trauma and/or tragedy. It is a common occupational hazard of professionals who work intimately with others and it represents a potential psychological stress from working to help heal those who are hurt or harmed.
When present, compassion fatigue can reduce your capacity to deliver optimally empathic and supportive professional care while also intruding on your thoughts, emotions and energy in your personal life. A common factor contributing to compassion fatigue is the experience of burnout, which arises when an individual is faced with too much work and not enough resources to do that work well. Combined, secondary trauma and a pressured work flow can result in physical and emotional exhaustion, less enjoyment of work, and may also result in interpersonal and interprofessional conflicts.
To keep compassion fatigue from developing or to address it emerges, compassion fatigue experts suggest that healthcare providers do the following:
Recognize the signs: Some signs include loss of productivity, depression, intrusive thoughts, jumpiness, tiredness, feelings of being on edge or trapped, or inability to separate personal and professional life.
Make self-care part of your routine: Good self-care means developing a routine that makes each day predictable and that includes: adequate sleep, healthy nutrition, physical activity, relaxation and socializing. The schedule should also include time for a self check-in each morning to assess tension in the body and worries in the mind.
Examine beliefs about self-care: It’s not enough to just go through the motions of self-care, it needs to be a legitimate attempt. In our society, we applaud people who work themselves to death and who neglect their own self-care to help others. We rarely applaud people for taking the day off. We may not reap the benefit of any self-care if we are worrying about work on a day off or feeling guilty for taking time off for fun and relaxation. Even a tiny dose of positive emotion, such as noticing flowers blooming, can help.
Practice self-compassion: It’s important for caregivers to take time to reflect—alone and with a loving partner, a trusted colleague, religious leader, and/or a therapist—on any personal worries or wounds that may be surfacing because of work (or other life) demands. Bearing witness to another person’s suffering can ignite distress within ourselves and fostering a compassionate sense of self-regard is vital in maintaining empathic capacity for those in need.
Help colleagues: Connecting with like-minded professional peers is another strategy that can help mitigate work related stress. Trusted colleagues can give each other permission to point out potential problems and keep at it despite attempts to deflect or deny. It’s also important to normalize compassion fatigue. You could say, “These are crazy times, and I’m struggling.” she says. Then ask, “Is that something you’re going through, too?”
Create community: Staying connected and open to family and friends can be beneficial in identifying early signs and alleviating the impacts of burnout and compassion fatigue.
Focus on compassion satisfaction: There can be terrible things going on, but focus on the wins. Focusing on gratitude can help.
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Following are some mantras for self-compassion from Reducing Secondary Traumatic Stress: Skills for Sustaining a Career in the Helping Professions By Brian C Miller:
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including yourself.”
“The heaviest burdens that we carry are the thoughts in our head”
“We don’t get to choose what to feel, we only get to choose whether to feel.”
“Words are the most important drug used by mankind”
“Deliberately moving our focus from the rumination (default mode) to task positive mode.”
“Those who thrive in this work do so for the simplest of reasons: They enjoy doing their jobs”
“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week. You’re going to have something special.”
Compassion Fatigue among Healthcare, Emergency and Community Service Workers: A Systematic Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4924075/