Monday 26 January 2015

All out of love? Take back the joy that comes from caring

Those in the compassionate professions can suffer fatigue when the well runs dry

LOVING A VOCATION: Caring starts with showing compassion to yourself

FEELING exhausted, overwhelmed, possibly depressed, sleepless, or anxious are all symptoms of what is known as 'compassion fatigue' which can affect healthcare staff.

Back in 1995, the term 'compassion fatigue' was coined by Charles Figley, a leading researcher in the field. It has been described as feeling that you're still digging into the bottom of your bucket after supplies have run dry.

In Ireland today, increasing demands on the healthcare system, cuts in wages, and higher levels of client stress all contribute to an increase in the level of 'compassion fatigue' felt by healthcare workers.

Being present with clients, residents, or patients can be emotionally demanding as we struggle to stay in touch with what they are feeling.

Even people with good strategies for self-care and preferred work/life balance can and do experience fatigue.

This can happen when some elements of their work changes ie, they take on some challenging clients, workload becomes heavier, resources become scarcer etc.

Staff in caring roles such as doctors, nurses, social workers, psychotherapists, care staff, etc, can find themselves near the point of exhaustion which can have long-reaching effects into their personal, as well as professional lives.

Indeed, this can even change the way they look at life, and they can start to make uncharacteristic mistakes, or become pessimistic, which can have a direct effect on their work with clients.

The important thing to remember is that 'compassion fatigue' is a set of symptoms and not a disease, and help for 'compassion fatigue' is at hand.

According to Karen Brennan, who runs Self Care for Carers, there is a range of excellent interventions which help stressed-out and fatigued staff find their way back to healthy caregiving.

She is a compassion fatigue educator and lived in Asia for a number of years, committing some of her time there to Buddhist monastic practice.

'Many people working in front line services are suffering from 'compassion fatigue' or some of its symptoms and aren't even aware of it," she says. "Recognising there may be an issue developing for you is the first place to start."

According to Brennan, there are some simple, yet powerful, steps which can make an impact on the quality of life for those feeling stressed out from caring. Here are six helpful starters:

Take Stock of Stresses

Self-Care Planning

Start to think about how your ideal self-care plan would look. What are the ways that you personally relax?

Perhaps it's playing a round of golf, going fishing, painting, spending time with friends, meditation or prayer.

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