Compassion Fatigue is Real and Here is How you Can Handle it

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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.
– C. Figley, 1995

The quote by C. Figley is a great example of how it feels when you become overcome with compassion fatigue. Jobs that involve helping other such as caregivers, social workers and volunteers, including CASA Advocates, are usually the individuals who suffer the most from compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue symptoms are normal displays of chronic stress resulting from the care giving work we choose to do. Leading traumatologist Eric Gentry suggests that people who are attracted to care giving often enter the field already compassion fatigued. A strong identification with helpless, suffering, or traumatized people or animals is possibly the motive. It is common for such people to hail from a tradition of what Gentry labels: other-directed care giving. Simply put, these are people who were taught at an early age to care for the needs of others before caring for their own needs. Authentic, ongoing self-care practices are absent from their lives.

If you sense that you are suffering from compassion fatigue, chances are excellent that you are. Your path to wellness begins with one small step: awareness. A heightened awareness can lead to insights regarding past traumas and painful situations that are being relived over and over within the confines of your symptoms and behaviors. With the appropriate information and support, you can embark on a journey of discovery, healing past traumas and pain that currently serve as obstacles to a healthy, happier lifestyle.

Many resources are available to help you recognize the causes and symptoms of compassion fatigue. Healing begins by employing such simple practices as regular exercise, healthy eating habits, enjoyable social activities, journaling, and restful sleep. Hopefully, the information on this website will be of use to you and help you jump-start your process.

Accepting the presence of compassion fatigue in your life only serves to validate the fact that you are a deeply caring individual. Somewhere along your healing path, the truth will present itself: You don’t have to make a choice. It is possible to practice healthy, ongoing self-care while successfully continuing to care for others.


What are some tips for handling burnout?

* Recognize the symptoms of burnout.
* Learn to ask for help.
* Be aware of your family, job and self limitations.
* Take time out during the day.
* Maintain discipline in daily responsibilities & duties.
* Take short vacations at least twice a year.
* Diversify responsibilities; variety in both your job & home life.
* Establish a set of priorities for yourself.
* Change the little things & accept those you can’t
* Admit burnout is a problem; don’t cover it up.
* Decrease time taken away from satisfying aspects of your life by unimportant, trivial duties.
* Discuss your priorities with your boss and your family members.
* List the things you hate most at work or home; discard or delegate all you can.
* Alternate major tasks with deferred results with those that have immediate productive and gratifying results.
* Be aware of your motivation in dealing with your family or career field.


What are some ways to prevent burnout?

* Be informed of the expectations, scope of responsibilities, opportunity for advancement, supervision, job description, workload, evaluation criteria, benefits and salary of a job before accepting it.
* Identify goals and evaluate accordingly both at home and on the job.
* Maintain personal growth both at home and on the job.
* Seek out helpful supervision for your work both at home and on the job.
* Develop an active outside life with a variety of interests.
* Personalize your work and home environment with meaningful pictures, objects, colors, etc.
* Feel comfortable with yourself, set limits for yourself and know how far to become involved with family and colleagues.
* Encourage and practice good communication skills.
* Provide for flexible working conditions.
* Seek out encouragement for trying new ideas.
* Find your own “decompression techniques” such as activities like meditation or exercise that relieve tension and put you into a more relaxed state.
* Build a support system for yourself with those who can discuss your problems and help look for solutions. Don’t just air gripes, but look for solutions.

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