Strategies for Managing Compassion Fatigue

You need Adobe Flash Player to view some content on this site.

Click to install Adobe Flash Player

“We think we can do it all, that we can take on just one more thing. The reality of that is there’s always one more, and we’ll never be able to accomplish what we need to without taking the time and giving ourselves the permission to say, ‘No, I need to take some time so I can then help others.’” By learning strategies to manage stress and creating a self-care plan, caregivers can reduce the risk that their personal and professional lives will be negatively affected by compassion fatigue.

Take care of your body.

  • Maintain healthy lifestyle habits, including exercising regularly, eating nutritious meals, maintaining positive sleep habits, and avoiding using alcohol to manage stress.
    Alcohol can be a means to reduce some of the overwhelming feelings of stress that can go hand in hand with caregiving work. Endless television-watching is another unhealthy coping style. Healthy eating and exercise may feel like too much work, but negative coping skills will make compassion fatigue even worse.

  • Consider taking a yoga class.
    Caregivers commonly carry a great deal of tension in their bodies without realizing it. Yoga can help reconnect you to your body and make you aware of bodily tension.

  • Drink plenty of water.
    Proper hydration will help minimize the impact of stress on your body.

  • Practice stress-relieving exercises.
    Relaxation techniques include meditation, creative visualization, breathing practices, progressive muscle relaxation, and exercise. Practicing relaxation skills will serve two purposes: you will be in a less-stressed mind frame, and will also recognize the value these practices can have for others. Practice several forms of relaxation exercises to find the one that fits best for you.

  • Pay attention to all the extra adrenaline
    It’s normal to have extra adrenaline when listening to another person’s crisis or feelings of angst. However, if the adrenaline continues too long, you will likely experience a crash. You may feel depleted, exhausted, and unable to interact with family members in a satisfying way.

Take care of your mind.

  • Use humor.
    Laughter can be a huge stress-buster. Rent funny movies. Full-belly laughter dispels tension and relaxes the body.

  • Write in a journal or listen to soothing music.

  • Limit your exposure of the news coverage of traumatic topics.
    It is not unusual to be drawn to ongoing reports of war zones when you are working with service members and their families. You may need to take time away to give yourself space.
Click to open interactivity Mindfulness is about presence of heart.

Mindfulness is about presence of heart.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view some content on this site.

Click to install Adobe Flash Player

Create a support system in others.

  • List at least five people you can turn to for emotional support—and then use them.
    Sources of support may include your supervisor at work, close friends and family, members of your spiritual community, or even professional counselors.

  • Accept help from others.
    Caregivers frequently report that it is difficult to accept help and far easier to be the helper. Allowing someone to help you can be a humbling experience, but one that can give you a renewed appreciation for the courage others have when they allow you into their lives. By opening yourself to another person, you can become a better caregiver.

  • Create a transition ritual.
    Explore the ways you transition from your work life to your home life. A transition ritual involves a soothing activity that is personally pleasing and that helps you make a clear distinction between your work space and your home space. It may be only a ten- to twenty-minute time period, but the benefits can be immense. Transition rituals include taking a peaceful walk alone, meditating, enjoying sunny day in a favorite spot on the way home, and spending time with a pet.

  • Maintain healthy boundaries.
    Caregivers’ work with trauma victims can become consuming, but it’s important to remind yourself that there is a line between the troubles others are experiencing and your own personal issues. Support and care may be even more important for a caregiver than for those they serve; without it, boundaries can become blurred. There may be a temptation to self-disclose to those you are trying to help. Many people in need do not want to hear about your difficulties; they want you to listen and support them. You may find yourself over-identifying with them, and you can lose your effectiveness.
Click to open interactivity Liz and Steve discuss Liz’s stressful job.

Liz and Steve discuss Liz’s stressful job.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view some content on this site.

Click to install Adobe Flash Player

Create a support system in yourself.

  • Learn to say no.
    This can be difficult for caregivers, as others frequently turn to them because they are such competent helpers. A helpful strategy for learning to say no is to ask yourself, “Will I feel resentful if I say yes?” If the answer is yes, then that’s your cue to say no. Others will respect you for setting limits and valuing your own personal time.

  • Slow down and take time to identify your personal needs.
    What do you do for fun? Do you have friends who are completely separate from the work you do? Do you have a spiritual practice or a creative outlet?

  • Remind yourself of your successes.
    It can be hard to notice the small changes people make on their journey toward better health. When people’s problems seem so overwhelming, it is important to recognize small changes and see the importance of these accomplishments.

  • Remind yourself that you are not responsible for fixing other people.
    It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling that everything will fall apart if you miss a day of work. Others may have more resources than you give them credit for. In fact, by being less available, you will encourage others to dig deeper into their own resources for solutions they may not have realized they had.