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Compassion Fatigue —Running on Empty

Compassion Fatigue —Running on Empty

Greetings one and all! I hope you are doing well and loving life. Once again, I invite you to take a deep breath, pour a cup of coffee or hot tea, and relax. Today, I want to chat with you about a significant issue for personal and professional caregivers—compassion fatigue. This may be an unfamiliar term. However, it is a common experience for all those who care.

As professional or personal caregivers, we witness the suffering of others. To witness the pain and suffering of others is to be forever changed. And, as witnesses, we are at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue. Referred to as secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue is a condition resulting from the overexposure to and/or overidentification with the suffering of other people or animals. Unrecognized and subsequently unaddressed, compassion fatigue reduces our desire and capacity to care. We feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. Reminiscent of the 1977 Jackson Browne song, we are “running on empty” when overwhelmed by the suffering of others.

Caring for others is inherently risky business. No one is immune to this type of stress. We are all as risk of experiencing compassion fatigue if exposed to significant suffering for an extended period of time. So, we must engage the journey of caregiving with our eyes wide open. The risk of compassion fatigue cannot be eliminated. However, we can manage and mitigate the risk if we are well informed and adequately prepared for the challenge.

In order to effectively manage compassion fatigue, we must first recognize the red flag warnings of this type of stress. When in the throes of compassion fatigue, people often feel:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious or irritated
  • Angry
  • Overly emotional
  • Depressed

Consequently, compassion fatigue often results in:

  • Compromised physical health (compromised immune system due to chronic stress)
  • Excessive behaviors (i.e. drinking, drugging, gambling, overeating, etc.)
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Blaming others
  • Isolation from friends, family, and colleagues

Once recognized, compassion fatigue can be confronted and thus mitigated. How so? Create an effective, beneficial plan of self care designed to regain a sense of balance, wholeness, and alignment in life. To be quite honest, I don’t know what is needed for your specific plan of self care. But, guess what? You do! So, instead of referring to a list of self-care tips posted on a website, I invite you to look within and do a little soul searching. Consider the following questions:

  • What fills you up?
  • What brings you joy?
  • What soothes your soul?

When considering all of the possibilities for your personal plan of self care, remember that whatever you choose to do must be attainable, possible, and enjoyable. So, if you only have 5 minutes to spare every day—plan accordingly. Then, as you realize the benefits self care, slowly increase the time intentionally focused on your wants, your needs, and your desires! Don’t feel guilty or selfish my friends. The reality is this—in order to care for others, we must care for ourselves. If you are running on empty, fill ‘er up! What are you waiting for?

I look forward to the ongoing conversation. If you have specific questions or concerns related to your caregiving experience, I would love to hear from you. Until the next posting, I wish you and yours countless blessings…jane

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