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Mental Health Musts to Recognizing & Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

Posted by Brian Spence on Jun 5, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Compassion Fatigue, Compassion, Mental Health, Behavioral Health, Depression, Counseling

The Dalai Lama once said that "compassion is a necessity, not a luxury, and that without it humanity cannot survive". Compassion, whose literal translation means "to suffer with", is a fundamental part of care-giving regardless of which facet, whether in the emergency room, hospice care, behavioral health or mental health units.

However, compassion can come with a hefty price tag attached to our own well-being.

It exposes us to the often times painful human condition of suffering, loneliness and helplessness. We can easily become traumatized by injustices, abuse, neglect, and how 'unfair' the world can be. Protecting our own fragile psyche can feel impossible once we form bonds with those we are helping.  Author and licensed social worker and psychotherapist, Colleen Breen, described this condition in a Hazelden article as;

"...a kind of "soul sadness" because there is an inner, core reality that closes down when people become so overwhelmed by the needs and concerns of others that they forget to take care of themselves."

Compassion Fatigue is a very real condition and it would be beneficial if everyone in the field of care-giving knew the symptoms. According to an article in Psychology Today:

"The helpers' symptoms, frequently unnoticed, may range from psychological issues such as dissociation, anger, anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares, to feeling powerless. However, professionals may also experience physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, general constriction, bodily temperature changes, dizziness, fainting spells, and impaired hearing. All are important warning signals for the caregiver that need to be addressed or otherwise might lead to health issues or burnout."

Just as first responders and soldiers are exposed to traumas leading to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) care-givers are also susceptible to experiencing their patients' suffering and many even exhibit their exact symptoms. Your ability to recognize these symptoms can make all the difference to your mental health and the mental health of your co-workers.

Developing awareness is the first step in self-care. The next is to give yourself permission to take a break and reconnect to you - even if only for a few minutes. It can be as simple as taking five deep breaths, looking at pictures of your family members or pets that you have on your office walls or in your phone, stepping outside to feel the sunshine, or raindrops, on your face, taking five minutes to stretch or meditate or even a quick water-cooler break to talk to a co-worker about a funny movie you saw last week.

Additionally, creating routines that encompass both physical regimes, such as working-out to relieve stress, and spiritual or soul building activities, such as attending church or Bible study, building a yoga practice or even celebrating arts and music, all help the care-giver practice self-care. Even developing new or embracing old hobbies can help shift the focus of life from negative to positive.

The most important thing you can do as a care-giver suffering from Compassion Fatigue is be open and honest about your symptoms and seek help. If your well runs dry you'll have nothing left for your patients or yourself. Replenishing your reserves is what will allow you to continue your work while enjoying your own life to its fullest.

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Topics: Behavioral Health, Mental Health

Staffing Plus is a premier healthcare staffing firm that provides temporary, per diem, temp-to-hire and permanent Staffing Solutions for Behavioral Health, Education, and Healthcare settings. We have leveraged decades of experience to assist organizations with the challenges of managing their HR and Recruiting needs.