How to Prevent and Recover from Compassion Fatigue

Yesterday I wrote about my own personal experience with compassion fatigue in the post “What is the Answer to Compassion Fatigue” and hopefully described it in a way that is recognizable to those of you who are feeling the stress of caring too much. It is a common experience among professional caregivers of all types, as well as those individuals who are caring for an aging parent or a sick spouse or child. Women are particularly vulnerable to compassion fatigue as they tend to be the ones who nurture and provide care in a situation. Not only do others expect and depend upon them for this ability, but we seem to be designed to expect it of ourselves as well.

Giving, supporting and caring for others are one of a woman’s most precious gifts, but a strength taken to its extreme can quickly become a weakness. Caring too much can break us down, use us up and make it impossible for us not only to keep on giving but to enjoy our own lives.

The degree to which we may be vulnerable to compassion fatigue will depend on both nature and nurture. If we recognize that we may be suffering from compassion fatigue, whether it is mild or severe, it is time to take action to uncover the internal, as well as, the external causes. Here are a few steps to take to get you started along the road to recovery and prevention. In the future I will cover more specific topics in detail.

Steps to Take to Begin the Healing Process

Journal: Begin writing in a journal at least once every day. Write about your feelings, concerns, problems and issues. It doesn’t matter how well you write because no one ever has to read your journal. It has been shown scientifically that the act of writing is extremely beneficial both emotionally and physiologically. It is relaxing, cathartic and helps your mind process the stresses of the day.

Talk to a Supportive Person: Whatever you do, don’t try to go it alone. When we become overwhelmed emotionally we tend to withdraw. Compassion fatigue often results in a feeling of numbness. We may think we have nothing to talk about because our feelings are buried under exhaustion and a sense of overwhelm and hopelessness. If you do not have a friend or spouse with whom you can talk about your concerns, seek out the support of a therapist or pastor, or someone with whom you feel comfortable and can talk freely. You are not necessarily in need of answers to your care giving problems, you just need to be cared for too!

Care for Yourself: This is often the hardest thing a caring, giving person can learn to do, but it is essential when external demands intensify. Take time to do the things you enjoy doing and do so often. Slow down, find a way to do a little less and time to do nothing. Take ten minutes every day to sit quietly and do absolutely nothing – preferably fifteen minutes.  This time, without distractions or demands, allows your psyche to process all the myriad of information that it already contains. It will help you connect to yourself, to your center, to your life force and you will find that you are rejuvenated.

These three steps will get you started along the path to compassion fatigue recovery and prevention. It is only the beginning, as changing ourselves is always a process that takes time, dedication and determination.

by Dorothy Sander

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