Caring too much can hurt. Caring for the very sick and dying, involves some of the most difficult and most important work we provide for families. We often put aside our own needs and families to take care of those less fortunate than ourselves. We give with our hearts, souls, and knowledge to make the journey for a sick person and family a little bit gentler. Many caregivers are not aware that the stress they are experiencing in their lives has a name. The term “Compassion Fatigue” was coined in 1994 by Dr. Charles Figley, an internationally known psychologist. Though similar, compassion fatigue is not burn-out or depression.
Compassion fatigue occurs when we focus on the needs of others without sustaining healthy self-care practices to balance our giving with receiving. Compassion fatigue originates from an internal place of depletion. Healthy caregivers are able to fill themselves up and experience abundance. When we have compassion fatigue, we have depleted our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual resources. Ultimately we are left with nothing to build ourselves up and strengthen our resolve to be of service to others.
Eventually, destructive behaviors surface and create havoc in our lives. Since we do not understand this stress, we view ourselves in negative ways. We think to ourselves that we are useless, over reactive, and unprofessional. Others see us as selfless, over involved, and blind to our altruism. We wonder, what is wrong with me? Why don’t I feel happy? Why can’t others understand? If this sounds familiar, then you may be experiencing compassion fatigue. You may see similar symptoms in your co-workers.
Caring for yourself
It takes just a few minutes each day to set aside the burdens we carry and focus on our own needs. A simple technique is deep breathing. Close your eyes, take a slow deep breath in for four seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds and breathe out for four seconds. Breathing is one of the ABCs of life. Without breath, we cease to exist. We are born to breathe using our lungs. Over time, we interrupt the natural rhythm and breathe shallowly. The practice of deep breathing just 30 minutes a week, have shown to reduce blood pressure by 15 points.
Listening to music is an easy self-care method. Music for enjoyment and therapy, regardless of talent, affirms the “aliveness” within us. Music improves mood, can heal the mind and body, and keep the brain tuned up. Calming music can lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve sleep, reduce pain and anxiety, and is a non-intrusive way to promote wellness.
Using aromas and scents with can motivate use, relax us, and bring back good memories. Candles, essential oils, and incense come in a variety of scents. To battle fatigue, use ginger, mint, lavender, or lemon fragrances. Reduce anxiety with bergamot, chamomile, or frankincense. Beat stress with lemongrass, sandalwood, sage, or citrus.
Massage is another technique to promote wellness. The simple power of touch is healing.It is non-invasive, promotes circulation, relaxes muscles, distracts from pain and anxiety. You can do this to yourself, with your family, and with your patients.
Reflection and journaling go hand-in-hand to foster inner peace. Reflection is the quiet time for yourself. It is a time to replay, recall, and remember the day’s events. The time is spent talking to God and listen to yourself. A journal can be a companion, a best friend, a way to tap into your intuition, or a place to dump your emotions so they don’t land on friends and loved ones. Your journal can be a way to clean out the junk in your head so you can focus on what is really important to you. Writing in a journal is an act of self-love. Your journal is a safe place to get to know yourself and discover who you are. It can bring clarity in a confusing world that bombards us with messages and images of who we should be and what we should want. A journal allows us to paint a picture of what we want our lives to be and helps us love ourselves enough to create it. It Is a link to your soul.