People who feel deeply for others run the risk of Compassion Fatigue but we rarely talk nearly enough about it!
WHAT IS COMPASSION FATIGUE?
Compassion fatigue is ‘the indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of suffering people, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals’. Basically, compassion is something you are lucky if you have, but everyone has a limit to the amount they are able to give, it is not something that is in endless supply. There are so many factors that can affect how much compassion you are able to give to others, including the following: lack of sleep, hormonal fluctuations, depression, physical pain and many more. Compassion fatigue is something that is becoming more and more common in today’s society, especially those working in healthcare.
In order to understand compassion fatigue, we first need to understand that Compassion is described as ‘having sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others’. I personally don’t really agree with the word ‘pity’ as I find being compassionate has nothing to do with pitying people and instead is more of an understanding of someone else’s situation. ‘Compassion’ comes from the Latin word ‘compati’ which translates as ‘to suffer with’. Hence there lies the problem, ‘suffering with’ people on a daily basis can be exhausting.
HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS SHOULD BE COMPASSIONATE ALL OF THE TIME, RIGHT?
Let us be realistic. Often compassion is something that is expected from healthcare professionals. People think that Nurses, Doctors and Physiotherapists etc. are paid to be sympathetic and understanding to others suffering. That’s not the case, as a Physiotherapist myself, I am more than capable of carrying out my work effectively without being overly compassionate. Now, this does not mean that lack of compassion means that I am a mean and uncaring physio, sometimes it’s just the volume of work or number of patients someone has to deal with that means that sometimes those ‘added extras’ go missing. At my busiest I have treated 22 clients during one day, spending 30 minutes with each. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for pleasantries., lending and ear and long chats, you have to just hit the ground running in order to maximize the treatment given to each client. Sometimes you have to choose between sitting and listening to someone’s troubles or politely excusing yourself in order to be able to have the time to get all of your work done.
LEARN TO BE UNDERSTANDING
It is difficult to work in an environment that constantly presents emotional distress on a daily basis. The next time you are unhappy with the compassion you have received from someone else, understand that it may not be because they do not care, but because their compassion ‘pot’ has already been emptied by those who came before you. Instead maybe offer them some compassionate words or gratitude to show that you understand their situation.
HOW TO OVERCOME COMPASSION FATIGUE
The first step in healing from compassion fatigue is to recognize the problem exists in the first place. Only then can you make the changes necessary to recover.
TAKE A BREAK
In this day and age of constant world news coverage and social media updates, we are overwhelmed with stories of suffering around the world on a daily basis. Sometimes it is good to switch off, stop watching the news or reading the paper for a few days, take a break and allow your compassion store to regenerate. Also, don’t feel like you need to apologize to people for doing this, your own health comes before that of others around you.
TRY TO AVOID BEING A CAREGIVER FOR LOVED ONES OR FAMILY MEMBERS
Very often we feel a responsibility to care for loved ones ourselves rather than get help from professionals. This can be absolutely fine for the short term, but if a condition is long term there is no shame in asking for assistance. I have seen so many times family members taking on more than they can manage just because they feel it is their ‘duty’ and they end up exhausted and impatient. The only duty we have towards our loved ones is that they are cared for, who carries out the care does not matter or make you any less caring. Caring for a loved one can affect the relationships within the family and leads to tension and arguments, less quality time and enjoyable experiences. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care negative symptoms can occur. Apathy, isolation and substance abuse can develop due to this secondary traumatic stress disorder.
If you would like further information about compassion fatigue and how to recover from it www.compassionfatigue.org has lots of useful tips to help you out.
Helen Turner is a Good Elephant based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and is a Holistic health coach, Physiotherapist, Acupuncturist and Pilates Instructor currently residing in Amsterdam, Netherlands. She helps people all over the world through her coaching sessions to live healthier and happier lives. If you would like to schedule a Health Coaching session please visit her website:www.helenturnerhealth.com