As human service professionals, we are faced with challenging and emotionally-charged situations in the work that we do to support our clients and their families. The desire to work in a helping profession often comes from a place of genuine compassion and the joy of making a positive a difference in the lives of others. Feeling a connection to others is very important in helping fields, but often we can take on the stress and heaviness that comes along with supporting people who are going through life-changing transitions. This phenomenon is often referred to as compassion fatigue.
People often ask what the difference is between compassion fatigue and burnout. Compassion fatigue is directly associated with helping others whereas burnout is often more global. People experiencing burnout often feel exhausted from work, family, and everyday activities. Oftentimes a vacation or break from everyday life can help with burnout. People experiencing compassion fatigue may actually become traumatized by an event or chronic circumstance that is directly affected by the work they do helping an individual, especially a person whom they feel a close connection to. The symptoms can include depression, anxiety, and sometimes disassociation and indifference to the individual who is being helped.
Compassion fatigue can be addressed and avoided. Here are some things to consider:
- Do you feel a sense of helplessness and despair when you are with and thinking about your client or loved one?
- Does the time that you spend with your client or loved one negatively affect your mood, even when you're not with him/her?
- Are you feeling disconnected, distracted, or indifferent when you're with your client or loved one?
- Do you have a sense of dread when you think about seeing your client or loved one?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing some degree of compassion fatigue. Here are a few ways that you can address compassion fatigue and avoid it in the future:
- Self-care. This is the single most effective way to avoid and address the symptoms that are associated with compassion fatigue. Self-care can include regular exercise, meditation, psychotherapy, a spa-day, spending time with loved ones, and engaging in hobbies.
- Group supervision. If you're working in home care, it's important to take advantage of group supervision opportunities. Consulting with and relating to peers can reduce feelings of isolation and give people some sense of separation from the circumstances that their clients face.
- Understanding your triggers. At Seniors Helping Seniors, we empower our caregivers to explore their personal triggers and consider them when taking on a new client. Knowing the types of circumstances that cause emotional distress can empower people to make informed decisions about the clients that they take on and can help people be mindful before compassion fatigue starts to set in.