What is compassion fatigue exactly? Compassion fatigue occurs when symptoms develop due to chronic stress from caring for others. Those symptoms can include feeling physically tired, hopeless, apathy regarding work, and difficulty concentrating.
Compassion fatigue is common in helping professions such as medicine, social work, or care giving. It can also affect non-professionals who provide long term care to a loved one or who volunteer. Many people enter these fields with energy and enthusiasm for helping others and are ready to make positive change in the world. Unrecognized compassion fatigue can leave these once energetic and engaged professionals angry, cynical, annoyed, and feeling “burnt out”.
If you are in these fields you will likely be able to immediately think of someone who fits that description, perhaps even yourself. Here are some helpful tips for preventing or managing compassion fatigue.
Utilize Self Care
Stress is reasonable amounts is good. Without stress, we tend to lack motivation and we end up being unproductive. Unreasonable amounts of stress cause strain on your body and mind. When we are most stressed, self-care goes out the door which is terrible! Self-care allows you to prevent stress from become overwhelming so that you can still manage to get things done.
The words self-care often bring up thoughts of taking a bubble bath or going to a spa but self-care can be any number of things. I am going to address three that are super important for managing compassion fatigue.
Without food and water, we can’t live very long. Eating is literally how we fuel and nurture our bodies. Food is broken down to allow our cells to do their jobs. Our food choices can really impact how we feel.
Junk food lacks the proper nutrients to fuel our bodies. New research suggests that nutrition can impact our mental health. In a study, depressed adults were assigned a dietician for counseling for 12 weeks. Adjustments to diets included cutting out junk food and adding nutrient dense foods to their diets. 1/3 of people in the study saw vast improvement in their depression.
Regular exercise improves our physical and mental health. Exercise causes multiple reactions in the body that help decrease stress.
Exercise produces endorphins which are chemicals in our brain that help us feel good. Working out increases your heart rate. With increased heart rate, norepinephrine is released. Norepinephrine is a chemical that allows the brain to manage stress. Research also shows that being physically active reorganizes the brain. The brain then responds less to stress and anxiety.
The result of these changes means that your body functions better overall. You concentrate better, sleep better, and are physically and mentally better able to handle challenges.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. It means not worrying about things in the past and not being anxious about what could happen. Mindfulness allows for a greater capacity to enjoy life as it happens and to be fully engaged with those around you. It also allows you to better handle adversity when it arises.
Being mindful may be hard for some but with practice mindfulness can be cultivated. One way that you can improve in this area is to practice mindfulness meditation.
Benefits of mindfulness meditation can include improved mental health and overall well-being.
The practice begins with finding a place to practice and sitting in a comfortable position. You then focus on your breathing and focus on the present. Try to prevent your mind from wandering and worrying but realize that this takes practice. You can easily find guided meditations online if you are concerned about being able to focus. Here is some more information for beginners written by a fellow Elephant Journal writer.