Working a full-time job can take a lot out of people; the working world is no stranger to the feelings of physical fatigue and mental fatigue. But, there is another type of fatigue that plagues many who work in fields that require a great deal of emotional involvement – compassion fatigue.
Maryville University defines compassion fatigue as being “when a caregiver or worker gives so much of themselves, to the point of taking the stress into their personal lives, generally not taking care of their own needs, and ultimately leading to the burned-out state of no longer caring.”
Compassion fatigue can be found most often in caregiving professions where tending to emotional situations and needs are a daily occurrence. People in careers such as doctors, nurses, veterinarians, social workers, psychologists and other similar positions are the ones most susceptible to suffering from compassion fatigue, as their jobs involve enormous amounts of emotional involvement and empathy. If left uncared for, compassion fatigue can lead to some serious problems both mentally and physically.
Many people don’t take into account the intricate mind and body connection within every living person. While compassion fatigue sounds like it would be a mental health issue, if left unaddressed, it can take a serious toll on the body. When people don’t take care of their mental and emotional health, they are not likely taking care of their physical health either, and that’s why it’s often more important to take care of mental health before taking care of physical health. Compassion fatigue can lead to anxiety and depression, which are often accompanied by insomnia, inactivity, and unhealthy eating habits. All of these compromise the body’s immune system and overall wellness.
There are steps that caregivers can take to help combat compassion fatigue. One major hurdle in the battle against compassion fatigue is self-care, as caregivers tend to neglect their own needs as they put all their energy into taking care of others. An infographic from Case Western University puts it best: “Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well.”
It’s important to take care of your own needs first before you can adequately take care of others. Practicing self-care is also the best way to figure out what is causing the stress, and what ways will best work for you to manage and find balance in your life.
If you feel you have compassion fatigue, here are three ways you can approach self-care and combat compassion fatigue:
1. Spend some alone time.
Part of compassion fatigue is a result of constantly interacting with other people, so a great way to practice self-care is to take a day and spend some alone time doing something you enjoy. You can stay at home and pamper yourself with a nice bath, order some takeout, and have a Netflix binge. Maybe take up a hobby, which is a constructive way to focus your energy. If you have pets, snuggle with them or take them for a walk. Spending time with animals is known to make you happier, boost your mood, and ease stress. If you don’t have a pet of your own, you can ask to borrow someone else’s pet, or even volunteer at a local animal shelter.
2. Have a day out with friends.
If alone time makes you dwell on your work too much, then get together with some close and trusted friends. Have a day out together where you can talk and catch up, grab a coffee, or eat lunch together. Try not to talk about work, though. You could go to a movie together, where you don’t have to talk, but can still benefit from the positive time spent together – sometimes just being around loved ones can have healing benefits. Also, going to a gym together can give you quality time while also getting in some exercise.
3. Practice gratitude.
If you think you don’t have time for any of the suggestions above, an easy, non-time consuming way you can fit in self-care at work is to practice gratitude. It may sound surprising, but gratitude is scientifically proven to improve overall health. Practicing gratitude can help keep caregivers grounded and present with their clients, which helps with productivity. Keep pictures and mementos in your workspace to remind you of all the wonderful people and things in your life. It also helps to make time to write notes of gratitude for those around you who you appreciate. It helps you keep a positive mindset, which can be difficult in emotionally draining careers.
Compassion fatigue is a very real aspect of the caregiving field, and people who work as caregivers need to address this issue before it takes a toll on their physical well-being. By taking the time for self-care through time alone, time with friends, and practicing gratitude, caregivers can keep their head above water and continue to thrive.
Tell us in the comments how YOU combat compassion fatigue!
Mila is a writer with a BA in English Linguistics living in beautiful Boise, ID. Her ambitions in life include traveling the world, studying languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram!