Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary trauma, burn-out, vicarious trauma, or empathetic strain is an occupational hazard for therapists, health-care professionals, parents and other care-givers. It’s a catch-22 that only deeply caring people are susceptible to compassion fatigue, and only deeply caring people become care-givers. Compassion fatigue is a physical, emotional or spiritual exhaustion that takes over a caregiver and causes an inability to experience joy or feel empathy for others. Mindfulness meditation can help caregivers heal from, and even better, prevent compassion fatigue by resetting the caregiver’s nervous system and replenishing stores of compassion.
It’s a catch-22 that only deeply caring people are susceptible to compassion fatigue, and only deeply caring people become care-givers
Symptoms of compassion fatigue can mimic PTSD and include exhaustion, loss of interest and feelings of hopelessness and irritability. If you are a caregiver who is exposed to traumatic situations, you might even experience nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, restricted range of feelings and difficulty sleeping.
Be gentle with yourself as you make changes that move you toward better self-care. Don’t make self-care another burden. Keep playing with your self-care routine until it feels truly restorative. I make it a practice to review my self-care regimen every season.
Today’s letting go exercise: Take self-care off the back burner
1. Have a daily practice of self-care that includes supportive colleagues and friends, a healthy diet and exercise regime, and adequate breaks during the day where you focus on your breathing and quiet your mind. This may sound obvious, but many care givers regularly skip meals, even bathroom breaks! For this reason, I always give new patients the D.E.S. quiz by asking how they are doing with Diet, Exercise, and Sleep. If you are seriously struggling in of these areas, it might be time to reexamine your daily routine. Be gentle with yourself as you make changes that move you toward better self-care. Don’t make self-care another burden. Keep playing with your self-care routine until it feels truly restorative.
2. Preventing burnout really has two pillars. One is everyday self-care, the other is periodic deep restoration. Have a longer term plan for restoration that might include professional development, retreat time, or other forms of personal enrichment. Take a look at our Coping vs. Restoration worksheets for more info. Even setting yourself up for an at-home day of silence 3 or 4 times a year can make a big difference.
3. Take an inventory of your energy level at the beginning and end of every day. Before you go to bed at night, envision your ideal energy state. You might say to yourself, “I plan to feel calm and refreshed tomorrow. I’ll start the day with five minutes of inspirational reading or gentle stretching” Very often, action follows thought, and planting this seed at bedtime will subconsciously encourage to act in ways that will support your ideal state.
Compassion fatigue feeds on isolation. Don’t wait until you are completely exhausted to talk to a friend, colleague or other health professional.
We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness everyday!
For more on compassion fatigue: