What is Compassion Fatigue?
Second-hand shock or secondary stress caused by helping others who have suffered trauma or have significant emotional distress. It is often caused by empathy and can imitate symptoms of Post Traumatic stress disorder.
What isn’t Compassion Fatigue?
Fake or made up; “ALL IN YOUR HEAD”
Compassion fatigue is caused by empathy. It is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people.
Some other terms you should know…
Vicarious Trauma: Negative transformation in the helper that results from empathic engagement with traumatized individuals, which leads to a reduced sense of spirituality, meaning and hope.
Secondary Traumatic Stress: Individuals become traumatized not by experiencing a traumatic event, but by hearing about it. Can cause symptoms of PTSD including intrusive images, hyper-arousal, distressing emotions, and functional impairment.
Who Experiences Compassion Fatigue?
- Emergency Workers
- Hospice Staff
- First Responders
- Social Service Workers
- Family Members
Who is most at risk? Those who…
- have a personal history of trauma
- extend themselves beyond good boundaries of self-care or professional conduct
- have high caseloads of domestic violence, trauma survivors, sexually/physically abused children
- have little experience as a social worker
- have had too much experience as a social worker
- are experiencing too many negative outcomes
What are symptoms of compassion fatigue?
- You are falling asleep in meetings, appointments, or sessions.
- You are dreading an activity you normally enjoy.
- People keep telling you that you seem “moody”.
- You cancel appointments more than you keep them.
- You have a headache….almost daily.
- There is never enough sleep to be had.
- Your body aches more than usual.
- You find yourself becoming emotional with clients, coworkers, or family
members (empathy turns to sympathy)
- You hate your job!
- You are considering that you may not be good at what you do!!
Other symptoms may include:
- Panic attacks
- Memory problems
- Rapid heart rate
- Poor hygiene
Breaking the Cycle
- Meditate…breathe!!! Deep breathing can promote physical and emotional wellness by decreasing stress and increasing immune system.
- Creativity is key! Find ways to use your creativity and do something you like. Hobbies can be helpful such as hiking, planting, cooking, or even coloring!
- Everyone needs to vent! Find a person to vent to that you trust and are comfortable being emotionally vulnerable with.
Addressing Compassion Fatigue
- What types of cases contribute to your stress level increasing your
vulnerability to compassion fatigue?
- Take a look at the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Are you aware
of any of the listed issues or contributing factors in your workday? If
so, you could be at risk of compassion fatigue.
- Take a screening inventory: www.proqol.org (Professional quality of
life information, including compassion fatigue/burnout Professional
Quality of Life Scale self-test)
Practical Steps: Day to day routines that help break the cycle of
- Sleep adequately…your brain needs a break too. According to studies on Healthguide.org, average adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Eat three balanced meals a day. Balanced nutrition increases energy and levels of concentration.
- Establish a routine at home and at work and stick with that routine. Consistency helps to create stability.
- Ask for help when you need it. Express your needs verbally and take positive steps towards changing your environment.
- Educate yourself on compassion fatigue: http://www.proqol.org/ProQol_Test.html
Keep Balance in Your Life
- List one mini-escape or diversion that worked well to restore and renew you
- List one thing that brings you joy
- Name 3 things you feel grateful for today
- Think of something that has brought you a sense of joy (Make your top ten list)
- Who do you love that you can reach out to today? (Call them!)
- What made you laugh today? (Share it!)
- Have quiet alone time in a calm, beautiful place- a safe retreat where you feel renewed
- Have an awareness of what restores and replenishes you.
- Find ways to acknowledge loss and grief
- Stay clear with commitment to career goals or your personal mission
- Know how to focus on what you can control
- Look at situations as entertaining challenges and opportunities, not problems or stresses
- Practicing the art of self-management. “No” is a complete sentence.
- Developing a healthy support system: people who contribute to your self esteem, people who listen well, people who care
- Organizing your life so you become proactive as opposed to reactive
- Reserving your life energy for worthy causes. Choose your battles.
- Living a balanced life: Sing, dance, sit with silence
Mindfulness and Meditation
- Developing attention to the present moment and context
- Attunement – Demonstrating awareness and acceptance of unpleasant or painful emotions, building the capacity to tolerate such emotions in oneself.
- Egalitarianism – Reminding professionals and staff that they do not hold all of the answers to questions that clients face in the aftermath of a traumatic loss.
- Talk out your stress- process your thoughts and reactions with someone else (coworker, therapist, clergy, friend, family, supervisor)
- Build a positive support system that supports you, not fuels your stress
- Pets accept whatever affection you are able to give them without asking for more. Blood pressure and heart rate decrease when interacting with animals
Don’t give up! You are in the helping profession because you are a helper. Don’t give up on your purpose but find a way to achieve balance. #HOPEisHere