Compassion fatigue, also known as burnout, can appear in caregivers exposed to suffering on a daily basis. Nurses, care workers, doctors, counsellors are all exposed to compassion fatigue. We work with people who experience suffering every day and their suffering can affect us. Early detection of symptoms of compassion fatigue can prevent more serious symptoms. Here are five tips to recognize and avoid compassion fatigue:
- Take care of your body: If you start feeling the effects of compassion fatigue, such as rapid heartbeat, dizziness, headaches, difficulty sleeping or falling asleep, remember the basics of looking after your body: healthy diet, daily exercise.
- Look after your mind: Cognitive symptoms of compassion fatigue include lowered concentration, disillusionment, apathy, preoccupation with trauma. If you have any of these symptoms, it may be useful to calm your mind through meditative practices: yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation.
- Express your feelings: Working with people suffering on a daily basis can be taxing for anyone. You may start experiencing powerlessness, anxiety, guilt, anger, numbness, fear, sadness. You may also experience dreams similar to your patients or you may suddenly recall frightening experiences. It may be useful to share your feelings in a supportive environment. Check if there are support groups for caregivers at work or in your area. Do some counselling sessions with a qualified counsellor.
- Stay connected: Caregivers who are close to burnout often tend to isolate themselves. Because of their mood swings, irritability, poor sleep and other symptoms, they may have more interpersonal conflicts at work and in their families. If you observe that you tend to isolate yourself, watch out. You may be starting to develop compassion fatigue. Stay connected with your family and friends. Find a new hobby and create new relationships with other people. Go out, dance, walk, be creative in the ways you can relate to others, but stay connected.
- Find space for spirituality in your life: If you start questioning life’s meaning, feel that you have lost your purpose and you become sceptical about things that made a lot of sense earlier in your life, it is time to start a spiritual practice. Being spiritual doesn’t mean that you need to join your local parish and go to the regular services. It can mean just walking in nature and commune with the divine within or outside. Find some quiet time for yourself.
If you believe that finding time to look after yourself is indulgent or selfish, think twice. If you get burnout, you will be of no help to anyone. It is altruistic to actually look after your health, spend some time doing what you enjoy doing in life, stay connected with family and friends, develop a spiritual practice. All of those things will make you a better carer and will help you avoid compassion fatigue.