How to Survive Compassion Fatigue: 8 Key Ways (2020 Edition)
Deathcare professionals spend lots of their time caring for the needs of grieving families in the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one. This article focuses on helpful ways to cope with compassion fatigue and focus on your wellbeing as you support others.
Alisha Joy, April 23rd, 2020
“We have not been directly exposed to the trauma scene, but we hear the story told with such intensity, or we hear similar stories so often, or we have the gift and curse of extreme empathy and we suffer. We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.”
- Dr. Charles Figley, 1995
Do you suffer from compassion fatigue?
Even those of us who face emotionally charged situations every day can feel overwhelmed at times. Perhaps a particular story hits close to home, reminding us of a personal loss. Maybe a client family member leans on us more than we were anticipating. Often, it’s just a combination of lots of heavy work, not enough rest, and overly high expectations of ourselves that can leave us feeling worn out and exhausted. To make matters worse, we may feel that we aren’t in a position to step back from things, because so many people are depending on us. It can be challenging to take time to recharge when we feel we must always be “on” for those we serve.
1. Make Time
Make time for your health. Exercise regularly whether it be yoga or boxing, or invest in a massage or meditation class.
Ways To Cope With Compassion Fatigue
How do caregivers such as funeral directors, nurses, hospice workers, therapists, EMTs, police, and other civil servants stave off burn out and remain mentally and physically healthy?
They exercise self-care. In fact, they make it a priority. If they empty out, they need to fill up. They consciously invest in themselves and focus on their own needs. Here are some activities that may help you replenish your tank:
2. Nourish Your Body
Don’t skimp on a healthy meal. It might be easier to run through the drive-thru after a particularly emotional day, but take time to nourish your body with nutritious, natural foods accompanied by plenty of water.
3. Establish Boundaries
Establish boundaries. That means learning to say “no”. As caretakers, we want to say yes to everything. It’s our way of serving and receiving validation. That’s part of the reason we are in helping professions – we draw value from helping others. It feels uncomfortable when we first say no to people. It's helpful to recognize that saying no may be a letdown to them, but a way of maintaining balance for yourself. Before long, our friends and family will adapt to the new boundaries, and we will have more energy and feel more respected.
4. Surround Yourself with Positive People
Surround yourself with people who sincerely care about you. You know these people by the way you feel when you are with them - supported, heard, understood, and not judged for your decisions. Spend time nurturing the relationships that can nurture you right back.
5. Mindfulness Matters
Be mindful. Practice staying in the moment and out of your head. It’s easy to find ourselves regretting past choices or worrying about events in the future. When you catch yourself in one of these mindsets, do your best to take a moment, breathe, and ask yourself if worrying will help to improve the situation. If it will not, acknowledge the worry, and gently send it on its way.
6. Practice Gratitude
Practice gratitude. When we think about the suffering of others, we remember the blessings in our own lives. Focus on the little things that bring you joy–a warm cup of coffee, the smell of spring in the air, a hug from a loved one. Try beginning or ending each day by making a list of three things you are grateful for. When we focus on the goodness in our lives, it can help us to feel a sense of clarity and fulfillment.
Organize your life so that it is balanced. After work, engage in activities that light you up. Explore your passions and spend time with people who matter most. Be sure to set aside time for fun and relaxation, instead of hoping you can fit it into your schedule. When we put something on our calendars, we send a message to our brains that this is important, and we are more likely to devote that time to ourselves.
8. Don’t Ignore Self-Care
Focusing on our sense of wellbeing can play a huge part in our overall mental, physical, and emotional health. Self care takes many forms, and we can each decide what feels best for us. You may want to set aside time to read or journal, maybe a sport or hobby group would be a good fit for you, or perhaps you could set an appointment with a trusted counselor or therapist.
“Never give from the depths of your well. But from your overflow.”
Serving others is a noble choice, regardless of the form it takes. We’ve all heard the cliche that we need to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others, and it has never been more true. Know that when you take time for yourself, you are honoring your own health, and enabling yourself to be of best service to those you care for.