We live in a city full of caregivers who give themselves to helping others. This ranges from people in helping professions to people who are taking care of their elderly parents or disabled children. There are many rewards and joys for being a helping person. However, there is a cost for caring. These costs can be emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual in nature.
Compassion fatigue was coined by Dr. Charles Figley. His definition says that compassion fatigue refers to absorbing information and often the suffering itself through empathy. It represents an exhaustion of caring for a helping professional, and it leads to profound emotional and physical erosion that takes place when helpers are unable to refuel and regenerate themselves. Basically, a person gives all of themselves to the people who they help around them.
It is not a guarantee that someone who is in a helping profession or who takes care of someone will definitely get compassion fatigue. There are ways to prevent it from happening and ways to recover from it if it has happened to you. The first part to preventing it is awareness. Understanding that providing constant care for others is draining and we must place emphasis on taking care of ourselves so that we can continue to provide great care to others. Many of us tend to put our needs last and feel guilty for taking extra time out of their busy schedules to exercise, meditate, or have a massage. Yet they might even recommend it to others around them and forget to follow it themselves.
Here are the ways to build your resilience to compassion fatigue:
Find ways to replenish yourself
What do you enjoy? As helpers we need to realize that everyone renews themselves differently because some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts. We all have different likes and dislikes. Start paying attention to yourself to find your list of things that rejuvenates yourself. For me, it is taking drives on a sunny day, reading a good book, taking 5 minutes to breathe and spending time with God. For you it might be gardening or playing a rousing game of hockey. Make a list of yours so that you can start practicing doing something daily to keep yourself renewed.
We don’t live in a bubble but often when we start to feel drained, we end up retreating from others. People are vital to combating compassion fatigue. Social support is one of the key predictors of whether a person will suffer from it or stay mentally healthy. Develop your own support system which means having people you can have fun with and people you can talk to about what you are going through. These people don’t have to be the same people as sometimes you need people who don’t know what’s going on in your life to kick back with and laugh.
Find your purpose
Staying connected to our own hopes, joys, rewards and purpose helps fill our own tanks. When a task such as taking care of others ends up being the only reason we get up in the morning, it starts to become draining and hopeless. Find your meaning outside of being a helper.
Be kind to yourself
Treat yourself the same way you are treating others. We are often hardest on ourselves and treat others with more compassion that we give ourselves. Practice what you do for others on yourself.
Remember we do not need to reduce compassion or turn away from providing care to prevent compassion fatigue rather in the face of deep compassion we need to increase our own personal care to renew ourselves. Then we can continue to provide excellent care while feeling joyful.
If you have become drained need assistance getting back on track, we are here to help.
Trish Pauls, MA RP
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