Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue, often referred to as secondary or vicarious trauma, is the emotional and physical exhaustion that results in a reduced ability to empathize or feel compassion for others. Healthcare workers, even the most dedicated, are prone to compassion fatigue.
Signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue include:
- Irritability, anger, anxiety
- Disturbances in sleep, such as insomnia or nightmares
- Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
- Reduced career fulfillment
- Physical and mental fatigue
- Loss of pleasure in life
- Difficulty concentrating
- Bottling up your emotions
- Dreading care for another and subsequent guilt
- Numbness, hopelessness or powerlessness
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
- Poor self-care
- Denial, which can prevent individuals from recognizing the condition and seeking help
Denial has been noted to be one of the most dangerous symptoms of compassion fatigue. Self assessments for Compassion Fatigue (ProQoL ), Life Stress and Empathy are available at: http://www.compassionfatigue.org/pages/selftest.html
What Can You Do to Manage or Prevent Compassion Fatigue:
- Be kind to yourself and recognize what you DO.
- Be proud of what you do and recognize limitations.
- Evaluate boundaries, when it is appropriate to say no or set limits and delegate. You don’t have to do it all!
- Access coworkers as supports.
- Use healthy coping strategies such as
- talking to others who are supportive of you expressing your feelings and experiences
- eat healthy
- take breaks and get enough sleep
- Seek professional help for significant and/or persistent distress.