How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue

How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue

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Compassion fatigue has been described as 'running on empty', it happens when you focus on meeting the physical and emotional needs of your clients at the expense of your own.
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Caring for the elderly can be an intense and rewarding experience, but it can also be stressful. Compassion fatigue is the emotional, physical, and spiritual apathy that results from the constant demands of caring for others.

Compassion fatigue has been described as 'running on empty', it happens when you focus on meeting the physical and emotional needs of your clients at the expense of your own.

Compassion fatigue It is also known as burnout. Both conditions are common in assisted care, although it is believed that compassion fatigue is more pervasive. While compassion fatigue is easily treatable, burnout is more complicated; sometimes a change of environment is necessary (resigning or changing profession) to abate the symptoms.

Understanding Compassion Fatigue

Activity staff are in the business of consoling, encouraging, moderating, reconciling, reassuring, and advocating for and on behalf of clients. That requires a lot of empathy and compassion on a daily basis. Caring for clients who are under significant emotional distress day in and day out can make staff vulnerable to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is characterized by a profound emotional and physical exhaustion that can diminish your ability to feel empathy and compassion for your clients, thus defeating the purpose of your profession.

It is important to recognize 'when it all becomes too much'. Tolerating it or bottling up your feelings can have dire consequences on your health and wellbeing and that of your clients.

Who is at Risk?

Compassion Fatigue may affect anybody working in the caring profession. At risk are activity staff, nurses, home caregivers, therapists, paramedics, doctors, wardens, and more.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

The signs of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout are the same:

  • Exhaustion – mental and physical
  • Irritability, anger, guilt
  • Dissociation
  • Dread of working with certain clients
  • Gloomy and withdrawn
  • Absenteeism
  • Disillusioned with career, loss of purpose
  • Insensitivity – lack of concern for the feelings of others

Contributing Factors

Within any nursing home you may notice that the majority of staff are happy and seemingly fulfilled in their work, while others that are somber, ill-tempered, and indifferent. The latter may be affected by compassion fatigue.

There are many contributing factors:

  • Dwindling resources
  • Criticism from co-workers
  • Long shifts and heavy workload
  • Clients going through a difficult phase
  • Lack of support from management
  • Personal circumstances

How to Manage Compassion Fatigue

At the heart of compassion fatigue is self-care. Placing your needs last can cause an imbalance between activities that nourish you and those that deplete your strength. Combine that with personal problems and the vulnerability compounds. Being aware, recognizing the signs early, and openly discussing your needs with co-workers and management may prevent the condition going further.

  • Acceptance – compassion fatigue can happen to anyone
  • Sort out personal problems
  • Assess and improve workload
  • Take regular breaks on long shifts
  • Ask others in your workplace for support. Peer support and proper debriefings are essential.

It is possible to deliver optimum care without compromising your well-being. If you are feeling 'on edge' ask yourself: On a scale of 1 to 10, how serious is this? If it is 8 or 9 over a period of days or weeks, talk to someone, share your feelings. Life-balance builds resilience, so reach out for help.

Also, address your personal issues. Going to work stressed is no way to start a day's work. Remember that self-care habits include good nutrition, sleep, daily practice of relaxation (mindfulness or yoga), and nurturing activities.

Look After Yourself

Making your own health and well-being a priority enables you to continue your work with compassion and empathy.

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Comments   Post a Comment

AnniLivewire 14th Nov 2017
An idea for Susan...just wondering whether the paperwork can be largely changed to being more 'tick and flick' to save writing out the same kind of notes many times over?
Some computer databases allow you to set up and choose from a range of standard notes, then you can just select what is appropriate and copy it in. It takes a little while to set up but can save much time in the long run. In Australia, some of our TAFE colleges teach about this in their courses for Activities Co-ordinators. Also, perhaps if you are running a volunteer program you can train one of your volunteers to assist you in administration - there are often people who would prefer to volunteer in an office rather than work with people.
Jodi 29th Oct 2017
hi, I've just taken on the roll as activity coordinator, I think I might be trying to hard to keep the residents entertained per say, I'm trying to keep them busy for the whole 5 hours either one on one or group activities, discussions etc, but when I get home I'm worn out, then at night my mind goes a hundred miles an hour thinking of things to do.(thanks to your site I'm finding new things much easier), Is this normal?. Hopefully I can find a happy medium soon. I would love to hear from anyone that has any tips to help ,Thanks
Solange 30th Oct 2017
Hi, Jodi, you will find a happy medium, sure. It happens to all of us at the start of our careers.
Soon you will know the popular activities and get to know the clients better and everything falls into place. Good luck and thanks.
Paul 4th Sep 2017
Hi, I am new to this site and I signed up for membership just to read this article. I worked as a caregiver for just a few years and experienced burn out very early in my career. The nursing home I worked at was one of the better places to work at in my city, but that being said, we were grossly understaffed. I was new to the field, didn't have the experience, and was very slow. There were too many residents and there was not enough time to humanely give the residents I worked with the support they needed. Eight residents up and washed in an hour and a half before breakfast. It was too much for me and I moved to another floor to work the evening shift. I had eight hours to assist residents with getting ready for bed. This made a lot more sense and I began to love and care for my residents and felt more at peace performing my duties. No, I wasn't home in the evenings with my family, but I had much more peace of mind, contentment and a lot less stress. Thank you for sharing this article.
Solange 4th Sep 2017
Hi, Paul, I know what you mean. Sadly, many facilities have this problem; not enough staff to ensure quality care; task oriented instead of care oriented. Unlike childcare centers and hospitals there is no legislative requirement for staff-to-resident ratio and therefore it is up to management to provide it, and many don’t deem it necessary. Job satisfaction and peace of mind are crucial to well-being and I am glad you found a solution.
Marjorie 1st Sep 2017
Thanks for a meaningful article. After 3 years in the Activitiy Dept. I was feeling a little bit "out of gas" myself. I always appreciate your new ideas and suggestions. It certainly helps in the creativity and idea areas immensely. Keep up the great emotional support that you provide!
Solange 1st Sep 2017
Hi, Marjorie, thank you very much for your kind words. We appreciate it very much.
Marie 31st Aug 2017
Oh my, I can sooo identify with this article! Although not an Activities Coordinator I manage staff, volunteers as well as dwindling financial resources and clients come to me for assistance with various support needs. I have identified for over two years that I've been 'running on empty', but with not enough support to make things better. Just knowing others are going through the same thing is helpful. In the next couple of weeks, for the first time, our centre will close for two weeks and this will give me an opportunity to try to re-charge the very depleted battery and have some 'ME time'.
To my fellow caring individuals, hang in there, we do a wonderful job.
Solange 1st Sep 2017
Thank you for your kind words, Marie. We appreciate very much your feedback.
Geeta 30th Aug 2017
Thank you so much for this article. Seeing this on site I felt like you read my mind ! I love my job, I find so rewarding but at this right moment I don't know why I am feeling low but reading this article gave me a boost !! Thank you again :)
Solange 1st Sep 2017
Hi, Geeta, it is so rewarding to think we could help you. Thank you for your kind words.
Valerie 29th Aug 2017
Thank you for this article! Thank you for providing a place to go for someone with no experience in this field. I naturally have a huge heart for the senior adult living in a retirement facility. I am learning as each day passes. I am so glad this website is her just for that reason alone! I recently retired from a 25 year service in government and stepped into this role of Activity Director and without people like you all I'd been completely lost! THANK YOU !!!
Solange 29th Aug 2017
Hi Valerie, welcome to the best profession in the world! Thak you very much for your kind words. We do appreciate your feedback.
Sue 29th Aug 2017
I really can relate to this article. I seem to have lost my mojo as I am exhausted. As. Lifestyle leader the role, responsibilities and paperwork have grown significantly so my love of spending quality time with our residents mostly rests with my team. I miss those moments. I have began to feel it is time to hand the job over to someone else as my confidence has really taken a downward spiral. I am always on catch up. I will make plans to firstly have an honest conversation with my manager and my team. I will take some time to consider the future and what I can do to improve my wellbeing. Thanks for helping know I am not alone in this.
Solange 29th Aug 2017
Hi, Sue, thank you for your kind words. I hope you sort your problems soon and can go back to do what you love. All the best.
Susan 29th Aug 2017
Very good article
What I found most exhausting is the amount of paperwork you are expected to do and the meetings you are required to attend.
I think activity professionals want to spend as much time with the residents as they can. They get personal satisfaction from seeing smiles on the residents' faces.
There are some residents you feel closer to than others. However do not get too close because you will be hurt eventually,

Another tip is to leave your problems at the door. Your facility is a happy place
Solange 1st Sep 2017
Thank you for your feedback, Susan.
Lorraine 29th Aug 2017
This article is so true.
More than time a few of us took "own time" !
Perhaps those in charge should read and obsorb this article, then work on it, to help their staff.
Thank you for the article, it should surely help a lot of caring and Activity staff to understand what is happening. I have always said that carers and Activity staff should get a week off every three months, apart from their annual leave. It would help with this problem, and make the work place a happier place for all concerned.
Solange 1st Sep 2017
Hi Lorraine, how wonderful it would be: a week off every three months! It won't happen though but being aware of the pitfalls by taking time to learn the signs and symptoms can be a helpful means of prevention. Thank for your feedback.
Deb 29th Aug 2017
Hmnn....this article sure speaks to me......thanks. I thought I was losing the plot. Love my job, love my residents but just going home yesterday I felt exhausted, frustrated, worn out, like I never wanted to go back to the residents I adore. NIce to know its normal and there is something that can be done about it......Time for me without feeling guilty.
Solange 1st Sep 2017
Yes, Deb, frustration, and exhaustion happen to all of us sooner or later. Be aware and be safe. Thank you for your feedback, it is much appreciated.
Solange 29th Aug 2017
Thank you all for your kind comments I appreciate very much your feedback.
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