If you're unfamiliar with the concept of compassion fatigue, learn more by reading What is Compassion Fatigue?
Essentially, compassion fatigue is when helping professionals and caregivers experience emotional, psychological, and physical fatigue from constantly putting the needs of those they care for before their own.
Perhaps you’re here, reading this blog, because there are signs of compassion fatigue in your life? What can you do about compassion fatigue and is it preventable?
After years of research there are several well-known strategies to help reduce the impact of compassion fatigue, and possibly prevent it! The first step is to create a self-care plan. If using the term “self-care” feels too touchy-feely or woo-woo for you, call it something else!
Maybe it’s your personal action plan, or the Blasting The Barriers (BTB) plan, or the choose me first plan. Whatever you call it, make sure it’s meaningful to you and only you! Remember that part of the reason helping professionals and caregivers experience compassion fatigue is because they put the needs of others before themselves. Your well-being plan is about YOU!
The 5 Essential Steps:
Step 1: Make a commitment (a promise to yourself) to create the plan. Tell at least one person you trust about the idea and ask for help being accountable. It’s best to not choose someone who is also experiencing compassion fatigue (or burnout). You want this person to be a positive support and possibly a role-model of personal well-being. A professional, such as a psychologist, can also be a great accountability partner.
Step 2: Create a plan that includes taking care of the mind, body, and soul:
Example for psychological (thoughts): Is there one thought that keeps coming up? Such as “I can’t do this anymore.” Replace the negative thought with a positive thought and repeat the positive thought as often as is helpful. “I am capable of being successful.”
Example for emotion (feelings): Share with others how you feel. Bottling up emotions results in feeling isolated and resentful. If you don’t want to share with others, journal feelings. Find a therapist. Talk with a spiritual/religious leader.
Examples for physical body: Address significant aches, pains, and dis-ease. Work with a medical provider if necessary. Implement an exercise plan. Eat healthy. Walk a few minutes every day outside. Receive body work (massage) to help soothe and relax the muscles. Get enough sleep (6-8 hours a night).
Examples of fun/relaxation (soul): Read. Do something creative. Spend time socializing. Start or reconnect with a religious or spiritual practice. Spend time in nature. Having time away from the caregiving role is crucial to helping remember 1)there is a life outside of caring for others, 2)re-focusing on the self and what is enjoyable, and 3)time-away from stressful activities helps prevent worsening of compassion fatigue.
Step 3: WRITE the plan down! Don’t rely on memory. Writing it down helps with accountability and seeing accomplishments. Some clients enjoy making a visual reminder of the plan like a schedule, chart, or a vision board. The visual is posted in a place they see each day. Other clients prefer to have an accountability system that functions more like a reward system, such as a calendar or spreadsheet. Share your plan with the accountability partner.
Step 4: Make a commitment to start the plan! Pick a date and stick to it. Often people struggle to activate their entire plan at one time. If that’s the case for you, pick one part of Step 2 to begin. Once you do this (let’s say after a week or so), add another part from Step 2, and so on. Enlist the help of your accountability partner if feeling afraid, stuck in getting started, or think you don’t have the time to do it!
Step 5: After you ACTIVATE the plan, check in with yourself on a regular basis. At a minimum do this on a weekly or monthly basis. Share updates with your accountability partner. When you notice that some parts of the plan are not working out, be proactive with changes.
Does this all seem a bit too overwhelming? That’s okay. Many helping professionals and caregivers experience compassion fatigue and seek professional support to get back on track.
Working with a professional can 1) help you create the well-being plan, 2) address underlying emotional and psychological reasons contributing to compassion fatigue, and 3) learn ways to increase self-awareness to improve the situation before it reaches the more severe state of burnout.
Dr. Erika McElroy
Smooth Rock Psychological Services, LLC