Connie Fisher, LCSW
Director of Mental Health Promotion, Mental Health America
Originally published in the September 2019 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
Are you tired of being compassionate? Do you find yourself doing too much for your clients? Are you spacing out during meetings? Then you might be compassion fatigued.
Compassion Fatigue is a particular type of burnout that professionals experience when they regularly hear or witness very difficult or traumatic stories and then lose their ability to feel empathy. They often describe it as having nothing left to give. The more caring a person is, the more likely they are to become compassion fatigued. Helping professionals sometimes do not know when to stop giving.
It is important to remember empathy is the core skill needed in forming relationships, which are crucial to developing your clients' trust. Without that relationship, you will not have a cooperative client, which will make your job even harder.
Signs that you may be compassion fatigued are:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Sleep Disturbance
- Anxiety and Depression
- Anger directed toward oneself
- Feeling guilty when you take time off
- Professional disillusionment or cynicism
- Having to address or resolve ethical dilemmas
- Separation or divorce
- Inability to take on additional tasks
So, where should you start with your self-care? I encourage you to pick two-three items from the Suggestions for Self-Care list below. Work on these items until they become habit — usually a few weeks. Ask someone to hold you accountable — someone who will regularly check in with you to see if you are still taking care of yourself. After you have formed a habit with those two – three, you can add in more. Remember, the more stressed and hectic your work becomes, the more you need self-care.
Suggestions for Self-Care:
- Listen to your body — when you start to feel fatigued, take a break or change your posture.
- Keep up with your doctor and dentist appointments.
- Take restroom breaks.
- Sleep and eat regularly and consistently.
- Say "No" to prevent over-committing.
- Let go of the illusion of control — you only have control over your own responses, not other people.
- Learn from and forgive your mistakes.
- Read, meditate, use affirmations.
- Ask for help.
- Develop a ritual for leaving work to separate it from personal life (e.g., turn off your computer or take off your badge).
- Reevaluate unhealthy relationships and decide if you need them in your life.
- Stay socially active (stay connected with your friends).
- With intention, take a few moments each day to find joy in your life.
And lastly, remember: you cannot get water from a dry well. You must make regular deposits in order to make regular withdrawals.