Compassion Fatigue and How to Combat It
Ways for caregivers to provide care for themselves
Even the most dedicated of social workers and caregivers can sometimes struggle to handle the consistent levels of empathy and problem-solving skills that coincide with the role. Often, people in the helping professions suffer from what is called compassion fatigue - a common sense of burnout that occurs when a caregiver becomes intrinsically preoccupied with the ongoing needs of the people they support and the subsequent pull to be compassionate and empathetic.
Compassion fatigue can affect all areas of a caregiver’s life, and cause them to feel exhausted, detached, easily frustrated, or anxious. These feelings in turn can make caregivers feel guilty and burned out, and even cause them to leave the profession. Compassion fatigue is common not only among social workers, but also health care workers, mental health professionals, people who provide care for family members, and many other related professions. It can be exacerbated by factors such as high caseloads, personal experiences with trauma, and inexperience in the field.
Fortunately, there are a variety of healthy ways to combat compassion fatigue and the related symptoms. Here are just a few of them. These tips have been provided by Brian Tallant, director of the Denver START program at RMHS.
Generating and savoring compassion satisfaction is one of the most direct and effective ways to deal with compassion fatigue. Compassion satisfaction is the joy that comes from helping others, and it is one of the reasons that many people decide to enter the helping professions. One way you can enjoy compassion satisfaction is to keep notes of appreciation from clients and colleagues and revisit them often. Another way is to engage in meaning-focused coping. Meaning-focused coping is the practice of using your personal values and beliefs to find meaning in difficult situations. This article offers an overview of the many forms of this kind of coping.
Many people evaluate the success of their work by maintaining an attachment to the outcomes of what they do. However, in the helping professions, this can result in compassion fatigue due to the emotional involvement that the work requires. Creating an effective mental and emotional distance between yourself and the work you do is a healthy strategy for preventing compassion fatigue and maintaining the resilience to keep helping others. One way to develop this healthy distance is to practice using the phrase, Things can happen, even bad things, but it’s not all about me, as you move through your workday.
Physical health is a vital part of emotional and mental resilience in a challenging job. Some of the best ways to maintain your physical health include getting medical treatment when needed, maintaining a reasonably healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and limiting toxins like alcohol and other substances to a reasonable level. Another helpful technique is to build an attainable exercise routine. Movement increases resilience in many ways and does not have to be a punishing or exhausting experience. Focus on exploring a kind of movement that you enjoy and finding a way to make it a regular practice.
Maintaining your psychological health is another way to build resilience. Healthy relationships go a long way toward psychological wellbeing. Friends, family, colleagues, and clergy can all provide you with unique support in your life and work. Although you may be used to providing care for others in your life, try allowing others to experience some compassion satisfaction in taking care of you when you need it. Other tools for psychological resilience include taking purposeful time off, journaling, using mindfulness and meditation techniques, practicing positive self-talk, and getting psychological help when you need it.
Spiritual resilience is another important piece of wellbeing. Some people find comfort in regularly attending a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship. However, spiritual wellbeing does not need to be limited to those who practice organized religion. A place of spiritual community can be any group of people with whom you share an identity or common experience, and connecting with these people can help you build spiritual resilience. Spiritual wellbeing can also involve practicing meditation, self-compassion, and connecting with nature.
Although compassion fatigue can be an ongoing and serious issue among those who provide care for others, these techniques offer effective ways to manage it and allow professional caregivers to continue doing the meaningful work of helping others far into their futures.
For more information about compassion fatigue and to access a helpful tool for measuring your professional quality of life, visit ProQOL.org.
To learn more about RMHS, visit RMHS | Denver | Human Services (rmhumanservices.org).
About RMHS: Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) was founded in 1992 and is a nonprofit organization that offers person-centered case management and direct service programs for children, adults, and veterans. With offices in Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and programs throughout Colorado, RMHS is committed to collaborating with individuals and their families to help them achieve their goals.