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How To Deal With Burnout & Compassion Fatigue

The data is out and it is official...people are burned out, especially helpers! Why? We have been pushed to max for too long and the cost is elevated burnout and compassion fatigue.

After all, we are human and only have so much carrying capacity. Let me clear however, that compassion fatigue and burnout are affecting everyone (parents, children, doctors, nurses, teachers, administrators, managers, etc.). There is just too much grief, stress, loss, and responsibility to care for others than what we can emotional handle.

Am I alone in thinking this? I would imagine absolutely not from the date and conversations with clients, friends and family.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is a combination of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual depletion associated with caring for others who are in significant emotional and/or physical pain or distress.

Simply, it's the negative aspect of helping due to the high cost of caring. It can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a “cumulative” level of traumas and stress.

It can be associated with too much work, not enough resources (time, money, people, etc.), non-supportive work or family environment, etc.

Compassion Fatigue Signs & Symptoms

• Affects many dimensions of your well -being

• Physical & emotional exhaustion

• Depression and/or hopelessness

• Nervous system arousal

• Anxiety, Sleep problems

• Bottled-up emotions

• Isolation and loss of morale

Diminished sense of career/job enjoyment

• Increases in mistakes

• Substance overuse and abuse

• Poor relationships with co-workers

• Avoidance of clients/shifts

• Physical ailments

• Intrusive thoughts/nightmares

Risk Factors For Burnout & Compassion Fatigue

▪ Negative coping skills

▪ High levels of stress

▪ Low levels of social support

▪ Previous history of one’s own trauma

▪ Bottling up or avoiding emotions

▪ People who tend to be conscientious, perfectionistic and self-giving

▪ “Empathy overload”

So, you might be raising your hand saying, "Yeah Doc, this is definitely me but what do I do about it?"

Here are two solutions that Dr. Kerry Schwanz (professor at Coastal Carolina University) recommends. However, I have added a component for your personal life as well.

1) Improving the Quality of Your Daily Life- intentionally improve the quality of your professional and personal life to have higher overall life satisfaction. This finding was shocking for me because I didn't think about changing my life so that I have less burnout. It's irrational to think that we will feel better by doing the same thing that is causing us to burnout and have compassion fatigue in the first place.

Here are some questions that may help you:

1) Is there a way I can do my professional life differently?

2) Is there a way I can do my personal life differently?

3) Is there a way I can do more of what I enjoy and less of what I don't?

4) Is there a way for me to fire the parts of my life/job that drain me?

2) Increasing Your Self-Care- A positive form of coping that can help individuals deal with stress, serves to protect you from compassion fatigue, increases compassion satisfaction. It includes activities where you devote time to focus on your own wellbeing and on refueling and revitalization.

What is interesting is that a lot of helpers feel guilty or worry about getting behind for engaging in self-care but it must be done.

Examples of Self-Care:

  • Go to the gym on the way home

  • Relax when you first get home for a set amount of time

  • Go shopping on the way home

  • Take a shower when you get home from work

  • Take a walk, exercise and/or meditate

  • Talk out your stress with someone who is a great listener or journal

  • Laugh with others (this is the one I decided to add after listening to Dr. Schwanz)

  • Spend time doing activities that energize, relax and stimulate you more.

  • Ask for help (forget doing everything yourself again)

Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Self-Care Behavior:

▪I engage in self-care activities that rejuvenate me

▪I can balance my daily responsibilities and self-care needs

▪I cancel self-care activities when others need my help

Rated on a scale of 1-7 (1 = never – 7 = very often)

Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Self-Care Beliefs:

▪ I feel guilty when I engage in self-care

▪ When I practice self-care I worry about everything else that won’t get done

▪ I deserve self-care

▪ Rated on a scale 1-7 (1 = strongly disagree – 7 = strongly agree)

You'll have to visit Dr. Schwanz's website for the entire scale but it is mostly for professional helpers.

However, I was able to find one for everyone to take here to assess if your level of self-care is adequate enough to defeat burnout. Enjoy:

I have seen too many good people burnout and compromise their health by not making these changes. God wants us all to be well so make the adjustments so you can enjoy life and be healthier. God Bless!


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