By Jane A Malkoff MSN RN NP

I know many wonderful people with good reason to have burn out from efforts to provide quality care to a loved one.  It is not only health care workers who get compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue as defined by the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project;

…”a state experienced by those helping people in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”

Symptoms may include; isolation, feeling burdened by the distress of others, blaming others for their suffering, frequent complaining, loss of pleasure in life, denial of circumstances, fatigue, poor concentration, hopelessness…

Compassion and caring can hurt especially when those in care giving roles focus on others without self-care practices in place.

What is a person with compassion fatigue to do?  These 3 survival tips may give the permission you need to survive and thrive.

  1. Ask daily, “How can I show compassion to myself in this moment?” Communities thrive because of compassion for each other.  We are most compassionate with others when are compassionate with ourselves.  It is said it is possible to spread a smile around the world as it travels from person to person?  Likewise, when you outwardly reveal compassion for self (perhaps through taking breaks, ending guilt, sharing the struggles, delegating without worry) compassion will spread.
  2. Act like a tree. Standing, take several deep breaths with eyes closed.  Imagine yourself as a big beautiful tree full of branches in the breeze.  Breathe in calm and peace and breathe out all stress.  Visualize releasing the stress through your trunk, into your roots and out into the ground away from you.
  3. Give yourself permission to have boundaries. Write them down.  Share them with someone who understands.  Enforce them.  Examples may include; limiting the amount of time spent per week caring for others; keeping a favorite hobby on the weekly calendar or setting aside an 8-hour block of time weekly where nothing care related occurs.

If compassion fatigue is not improving it may help to seek the advice of a health care professional.