Hope everybody is staying safe in such uncertain times.
I have felt the urge to write something since our world has changed so drastically. I admit - I find it challenging to look at all my information, manuals and training equipment and not be able to share it. Now more than ever we are forced to sit with ourselves. We have never experienced anything like this before - for some people, to survive this crisis will be their biggest achievement, so let’s not be hard on ourselves. However, whether you’ve ‘heard it all before’, would like a reminder, or have never been open to self-care techniques but would like to explore this area, I will share some information.
It feels surreal thinking of the amount of training I delivered to front line professionals over the years, where many already felt high levels of burnout. To those of you working on the front line today - I have no doubt adrenaline has got you through many exhausting hours but please give yourself a moment to catch your breath, have a cry, be proud of yourself, and remember you are human, not invincible. The reality is - we may all experience bouts of symptoms of compassion fatigue burnout because this is a worrying time. No self-care can banish the reality of our new world, but we can try to quieten our minds. I am so grateful that over the years, society appears to have woken up to the importance of self-care: It is not selfish, it is a necessity.
An experience of emotional/psychological fatigue people experience due to chronic use of empathy when engaging with individuals who are suffering in some way. It is a style of burnout which can develop due to providing high amounts of empathy/compassion for others, and not being compassionate/empathetic towards ourselves. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Empathy Fatigue’ and both terms are often used interconnecting with each other.
Some steps to keep it at bay in our current world:
- Be kind in the way you speak to yourself
- Tune into your triggers
- Self-care also means allowing yourself to do nothing and just be
- Do not try to function as ‘normal’ - these not normal times - but do try to follow some structure
- As best as you can, try get adequate sleep
- Exercise: for some this may be daily workouts, for others, it might be gentle movement - do what works for you, and what your energy allows you to do
- Comparison is a thief of joy. Be careful of comparing how others are managing or coping, we are all original and individual - do what works for you
- Aim to fuel your body with nutritious food and stay hydrated, but this is not a time to beat yourself up for not sticking to food plans etc, we are under enough pressure without adding guilt
- Stay in touch with others and reach out when you need help, or just want a chat but don’t feel pressure to maintain contact, some days you may not feel like chatting: Honour your needs - there is no one way to do this
‘You can’t pour from an empty cup, time to refill’
- Feel your feelings, and I mean this, if you need to cry, please cry, in order to avoid supressing emotions, and it’s still ok to have a laugh too
- Write about how you feel and if you feel like burning it - do, let it go
- Try get fresh air, hold your face up to the sunshine and absorb Vitamin D
- We all need to be kinder, people are sensitive at the moment, people are scared - try not take behaviours, words or actions of others personal, it is rarely about you, it’s mostly about them and where they are at
- When you sit in your car after work, take 3 deep belly breaths and tell yourself you done all you possibly could and hand it over
- Feel your hands on the steering wheel, your feet on the pedals, notice your surroundings on your return home, listen to a podcast or music different to the environment you were just in - these are all mindful techniques
- On the handwash or shower directly after your shift, imagine you are physically AND mentally washing away the day
- On your next shift imagine you have a protective bubble around you, and use this to protect your energy
Referred to as ‘secondary traumatic stress’ and has large role to play in people developing compassion fatigue. It is a process where individuals feel traumatised by other people’s trauma through face to face interactions, watching traumatic incidents on TV/exposure to trauma on social media, hearing traumatic news on the radio or even through reading books. Many people feel empathy towards other people’s trauma. However, individuals who are highly empathetic, not regularly filling their own ‘cup of self-care’ and spend a lot of time cognitively worrying about other people and external trauma, are more susceptible to experiencing compassion fatigue.
How to /manage vicarious trauma in these times:
- Avoid constantly staying up to date with news – it is important to stay in the know but you have a choice in how much you take in. When you do want an update, use reliable sources, avoid gossip and ‘what people heard’
- Aim to put your phone aside and only access it at certain times
- Be mindful of visual images and videos you are exposing yourself to
- Fear can be contagious, and sometimes addictive - try to quieten your mind as often as possible by doing anything that redirects your thoughts
- There are many live sessions of mindfulness/meditation on social media, which I have been accessing, and I can highly recommend some experts in this area (I won’t include lists here, but feel free to contact me for info)
- Please reach out and use helplines and sources offering support
We all feel the need to control sometimes, but now more than ever we need to let it go and only control what is within our control: Actions, Reactions and Responses.
This term means treating yourself as though you’re your own best friend. It means being compassionate to yourself at all times in ways such as allowing yourself to feel your feelings and process them. Stop beating yourself up, drop the stick! It is about accepting yourself, flaws and all, because we are all only human and remember that you are doing your best.
I hope the above info was useful in some way. We’re all in this together - so stick with it, keep up the momentum, trust the process and please feel free to contact me if you would like further information on any of the above. And remember we are staying home, not as a punishment, as an action to save lives - be proud of that :)
Compassion Fatigue Ireland is an Irish training organisation providing work-life balance and self-care trainining.