Compassion fatigue is created when an individual in a helping role is effected by secondary trauma. Essentially it’s when someone in the caregiver role is taking on others experiences and emotions as their own, so much so, that their well-being is compromised as a result.
Pour in, pour out.
Four words shared to demonstrate how an individual can overcome and manage compassion fatigue.
In your helping role, especially during this time of uncertainty and crisis, you may overextend yourself more than you normally would to feel you are going above and beyond of what is expected of you.
You do this because you feel and absorb the emotional energy of those you are helping. You end up placing yourself on the back burner, because you feel you must tend to those more vulnerable.
It’s a catch 22 though.
Without even realizing it, the smile you provide, the jokes you share and your good humor became a facade. This facade protects you from experiencing what is really going on within you and as a result, you experience a range of symptoms.
These symptoms can appear as fatigue, restlessness, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, lethargy, isolation, headaches, muscle aches, tension in your shoulders, back and your jaw, loss of interest and pleasure, lack of motivation to engage in previous activities that you know were once effective and created joy.
But how, how did you get here?
Well, when you’re constantly on and not pouring out the reality of your day, all of that stays within you and creates the symptoms above.
Take a step back and recognize the why for compassion fatigue.
You are reframing and processing reality, actively listening, pouring your heart and compassion into others, maintaining optimism and sharing it, safety planning, adapting, searching for ways to better assist in the moment and after the moment, calming nerves and worried thoughts, clinging on to every piece of hope and sharing it with those you serve. Now add all this on top of your mandates outside of your helping role (home, pets, family, other obligations). You are so tied up caring for others and managing responsibilities that you have stopped caring for yourself.
You are constantly pouring in, but not pouring out. That will create high distress for anybody.
You are important and your care is vital. Place your wellness first and see what shift that creates when you are with those you are helping. Imagine how different it’ll feel when you pour out after being poured into.
Find at least one thing that helps you turn off your switch and unravel into a place of calm, relaxation and compassion.
One tip would be to create a self-care plan. Many would say they don’t have time for self-care. I would counter with that just as you make time to do your job, attend to all your responsibilities, be present for family and friends you can certainly make time for you. It’s all in our perspective and priority.
If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, you should definitely place yourself on the top of your todo list.
Take great care and be real with yourself during these unforeseeable circumstances. More than ever self-care has never been more appealing.
Let’s address compassion fatigue before it leads to burnout. I bet you are in this position, because you do a wonderful job of helping and aiding others. Don’t allow this current shift to rob you of your calling. Pour in compassion and pour out compassion into yourself. You are doing the best you can, with what you have. You just have to step up your self-care game a little.
From one helping professional to another, live mindfully, hopeful and persevere.
Until next time!
Claudia Stanley, LCSW