Anyone caring long term for the acutely ill or traumatized is vulnerable to the psychological foe called compassion fatigue (CF). Even mothers of small children and adult children caring for aged parents are subject to the destructive forces of CF. It infiltrates the psyches of even those with the toughest skin, and it is found in nearly every area of the healthcare and human services realm, including the obvious trauma centers and ERs, but also in the halls of busy hospitals, in the tiny patient rooms of a family practice clinic, or behind the desks of busy psychologists and psychiatrists. Anyone inundated on a regular basis by the pain and suffering of others is at risk for developing CF. No one is immune, though some seem to handle the onslaught better than others.
So, if everyone is vulnerable, how do you know if you’re on the slippery slope headed toward compassion fatigue? And more importantly, how do you prevent yourself from falling into the void of CF?
The first step is to recognize the Physical, Emotional, Cognitive (behavioral), and Interpersonal signs of CF. While it is normal to experience any number of these symptoms for brief periods during a healthcare or human services career, experiencing ten or more of any of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time could indicate that you are suffering from CF.
As you read the following lists, take a mental note of how many symptoms from each category you experience at least once or twice a week, especially those you experience after work shifts.
Inability to focus/Difficulty concentrating
Diminished sense of personal accomplishment
Numbness/Dampening of experience of pleasurable feelings
Feelings of incompetency
Pervasive sense of dread or horror
Feeling overwhelmed/Hypersensitivity (sensory overload)
Poor self-care (hygiene, exercise, etc.)
Victim mentality (blaming)
Compulsive behavior (overspending, overeating, workaholism, gambling, addictions)
Isolation from others
Mistrust of others’ motives
Avoidance of certain clients
Lack of motivation
If you identify with ten or more of these signs/symptoms, then it’s time to seek help. The good news is that with the right intervention and by making some changes to your practice and to your lifestyle, you can turn compassion fatigue on its head and rediscover yourself and your passion for helping others. For ideas on how to turn the tables on CF and reclaim your life, I invite you to view Section 6 of the “Compassion Fatigue” of training course.
In this segment of the video, you will learn more about the five guidelines to finding “A CURE”:
(A) Afford Yourself Some Time. Wait to make major decisions until you are in the reconstruction phase of recovery from CF.
(C) Confront Your Pain. When you feel a vague sense of unease, irritability, or disillusionment, don’t stuff it or cover it up with Ben & Jerry’s or a smoke. Instead, begin digging until you find the root of that feeling. Once you find it, take hold of it and follow it to its direct cause. With the help of a good friend or a professional counselor, you can then eradicate that root.
(U) Unwind. Rather than taking that extra shift, take some time to drive into the country or take a hike. Do the job you were hired to do and use any extra time you have to do something that will nourish your soul and spirit.
(R) Reserve Your Energy. Spend your energy looking for solutions rather than complaining. Remind yourself that complaining and negativity will only increase your guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. Instead of using your precious energy to blame others, focus on areas where you can make changes and allow the rest to roll of your back.
(E) Express Your Feelings. Research shows that expressing your feelings through writing, verbal processing, or artistic expression does wonders for moving toward personal power and freedom. Spend time journaling your feelings and chose one or two very close friends or colleagues to confide in.
Don’t forget to read about the Care & Compassion Cycle to further understand how to move from the burnout phase to the reconstruction phase. By following these guidelines and principles, you can recover and thrive in your profession once again. Watch Donn Kropp deliver a life-changing training on Compassion Fatigue right now!
Angela Magnotti Andrews is a freelance writer who has co-written several courses for ClickPlayCEU.com, including “Compassion Fatigue”, “Hand Hygiene: Life & Death is in Your Hands”, and “Pain: Friend or Foe”.