From Compassion Fatigue to Compassion Satisfaction.
So, let’s say that you have 4 children living in your home. Each one with their own set of demands on your schedule from therapy appointments, to worker and parent visits, school outings, homework, and so much more. You do all of this out of love and compassion, and by the end of the day all you want to do is fall back onto your bed and collapse…forget about brushing your teeth, doing the dishes…just collapse. With all of that who has time to think about self-care. You may actually be thinking I don’t even have time to read this blog. I understand. I, also, must ask you to please take the time. Your first step toward self-care and compassion satisfaction may begin by reading this article.
Do any of these things EVER apply to you, if so, you just might want to keep reading…
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Worry that you are not doing enough for the traumatized person
- Diminished joy toward things that you used to enjoy
- Blaming others for the difficulties you are experiencing
- Feeling hopeless for the traumatized person
- Dreaming about the traumatized person’s experiences
- Physical AND Mental Exhaustion
- Rejecting intimacy
- Difficulty communicating
- Low self image
- Detachment from your friends and loved ones
- Accidents and errors
- Lack of Flexibility
- Memory difficulties
These are symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) or Vicarious Trauma. This condition is a state of tension and preoccupation of the stories and trauma experiences described by those you are caring for in your daily life or work. Please don’t just put this aside as something you don’t have time to attend to…your self-care matters to the people you love. You, already, know they count on you. So it is best to come to an understanding of why and how to fit self-care into your daily regimen without sacrificing the care you need to provide to those you love.
Once people begin experiencing compassion fatigue, the quality of their work begins to decrease. So, then while fatigued you try to force your self-care and that then increases your stress which causes more fatigue. When stress has the ability to set in, there is less satisfaction felt in the care you are giving and this leads to exhaustion and cynicism which in turn reduces the overall quality of interactions that are taking place. This is why proactive coping or prevention of compassion fatigue is absolutely necessary. Take action before action becomes mandatory and this will allow the respite from caregiving to have an impact without causing more stress.
Please take time to unpack that luggage of compassion fatigue now and discover real ways to cope, counter, and prevent the, inevitable, negative consequences of compassion fatigue. While the suggestions in this discussion may not lead you to the exact process you need for relieving your own compassion fatigue, perhaps it WILL lead you to discovering your own strategies that WILL work for you. If you are not yet convinced, yet, of the importance, please read just 3 little facts.
- 20% of road transport accidents are fatigue related. Ever heard of microsleep?…this happens when the brain shuts down for up to 30 seconds causing the body to go into sleep mode for about the length of a football field. Imagine if that happens to you while driving children to their next therapy appointment or competition.
- Another study found that after 8-9 hours of work there are increased likelihoods of performance errors, more time to complete tasks, and slower reaction times. You don’t want that happening while you are in court or caring for the children.
- 1 in 2 child welfare workers experiences Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) symptoms that fall within the severe range. You are all child welfare workers, by the way!!! This is an inevitable reaction to the “microblasts” of fatigue that occur when listening to stories of trauma and comforting those who have survived trauma.
It is NECESSARY for caregivers to take vacation time, pursue hobbies, eat well, and get enough sleep. It is a critical component to the process of coping. But, you say…how can we do this…parenting is a 24-hour/365-day commitment. That is RIGHT! And the children need that commitment from you. So, the pressure is on.
What we need to do is take time to turn compassion fatigue into compassion satisfaction.
Research has proven that to combat Compassion Fatigue it is essential for the caregiver to acknowledge that they are impacted and to establish an intentional mission to address it.
Are you exhausted as a result of caregiving?
Are any of the symptoms we have listed recognizable in your life?
Are you ready to establish your own mission statement to practice self-care? Are you willing to put your self-care mission statement into practice?
Begin your intention by taking stock of what is on YOUR plate.
Do you volunteer outside of being a caregiver?
Do you have children in extracurricular activities?
Are there weekly or bi-weekly medical/therapist appointments?
What else is going on in your lives?
Make a list of the things you have on your plate that are necessary for you to attend to for the people in your life.
Now ask yourself…What is essential? What could be shared with another person, so that it isn’t all your responsibility? Can you ask for help?
Commit to your intention by establishing a Mission Statement.
Sit down with your partner or your worker and discuss some options for how to ensure you are preventing compassion fatigue. This could be a two-way street, since both your partner and your worker should be thinking about this. Here are some basic ideas:
What are some of the demands that can be shared within your household or extended family?
Are there ways that the child welfare system can help meet the demands of your household?
What is a realistic amount of time you could give yourself for self-care, daily?
What would be the most calming and peaceful thing you could do for yourself, everyday?
You can start with a general mission statement like the example or write a very specific mission statement to ensure you are doing at least one very specific thing that will aid you in self-care.
Examples of self-care strategies could include:
- Finding time for mini-breaks.
Have a family meeting and discuss the idea of taking 10 minutes each day at the end of the work day or school day in which everyone in the household goes to their room and sits in silence for just 10 minutes. No video games, no snap chat, no homework, no forms…just 10 minutes of family quiet time, alone. When the 10 minutes are over…everyone comes out of their room for family table talk. A time for everyone to sit and discuss their day…everyone gets 5 minutes. Then as a family, talk about dinner and what to do as a part of a team. This is not necessarily something that will work for every family, but COULD work for some. You may need to tweak this for your family. The idea is to give some space for each family member and then come back together as a team. How does that look for your family?
- Delegating assignable tasks.
Getting into the practice of delegating can be hard work. It is often more expedient to just get tasks done. That is understandable.
Let’s talk about making dinner (or substitute this for doing dishes or other household chores) for just a minute. It is often so much easier to just get it done. It is one more thing to get off your plate. Makes sense…getting the kids fed, doing homework, baths, and bedtime. We get it. Let’s think about those chores (such as making dinner) in another way…this may help some of you, but others not so much.
Sandwich nights at home can be an easy way to teach our children. Or soup nights. All depends on the skill levels of our children. That 4-year old you teach to make a sandwich turns out to one day be able to be a REAL help in the kitchen.
Children having chores that help them to feel responsibility can also relieve burdens…in the long run, probably not in the short term, though (smile).
Letting children help decide what is getting delegated can also help them learn leadership skills while giving you a break from being “in charge.”
- Practicing “yes” since “no” can be so difficult for caregivers.
“No” is almost impossible for caregivers to learn…and I am betting almost every person reading this has that same trouble, right? Can you take just one more child? Would you be willing to add another therapy appointment to your schedule?
So, let’s talk about saying “yes” …equally hard, but by saying yes you will know that what needs to get done will in fact get done. If you say “no” to doing something you may be left wondering if that means someone isn’t going to be helped. Instead, turn to yes.
When asked to do something try saying “yes, if you can [insert here what you need]”
Or, when someone asks you if they can help you with something…say YES!!!
You are one person. Establishing your limits means making sure others get engaged in helping.
And here is the best unintended consequence of saying “yes” to those who ask to help you. You are giving them the gift of joy that comes from helping someone. You are able to say “thank you” to someone who will feel valued. Satisfaction comes from being able to do good things and being thanked (verbally or emotionally). When you say YES you are sharing the joy that comes from giving…you are actually giving the other person a gift.
Another component of the compassion fatigue research has been the understanding the implications of support and relationships on caregivers. As caregivers become increasingly exhausted they also tend to become socially isolated. This isolation creates a stress and fatigue that has serious implications on the caregiver’s effectiveness, empathy, and tolerance.
Support networks or groups can be like a decompression chamber is to a strained deep sea diver. A safe, therapeutic place to rest and heal from being overstressed.
Respite for caregivers can provide the necessary relief and time for recharging the energy level so that effective, compassionate caregiving can be provided.
Unloading trauma and exhaustion can make room in your brain and body for more pleasant experiences.
One common barrier to attending to support groups for caregivers is finding a safe place for those for whom they are caring. A barrier to respite may be feeling that you are giving the children another sense of being left with a stranger.
Talk to your worker or your agency head and ask for help finding a comfortable means for your support and connection needs.
NewFound Families believes this is one area of your own needs that you cannot ignore. Caregivers must have a method for support and respite. We believe in it so strongly that we have found to means for addressing what may be a support and respite vaccum in your life.
We offer a Support Chat on FACEBOOK that is open 24/7 and on Wednesday nights at 9 PM we are there live with you to discuss a specific topic or whatever is on your mind.
Three times a year we offer a family-based respite program that is designed to give you and your family a chance to unwind from everyday life, make new connections, and take time to experience renewed family time without the stress of cleaning, cooking, going to work, running errands, and more. Since it is family-based respite there is no guilt about leaving the children behind…instead the respite becomes a mini family vacation.
Is there one small change to your life that you think you could start tomorrow?
- One small change might be writing your own mission statement as a commitment to self-care.
- One small change could be asking the household to take a breather for 10 minutes after you walk in the door. Either together or give you time alone and then vice versa for your partner.
- One small change could be saying yes to your worker when they call about another child, but sitting down with them in advance and asking them to put in writing their commitment to doing one thing to help you that maybe you have always needed from the system, but never asked.
- One small change might be committing to our FACEBOOK support chat, asking us to help you form a local support group, or attending our family-based respite camp.
- One small change might be just remembering to breathe in and breathe out…
You might find that these small changes lead you to an important fork in the road. When you see the signs for Compassion Fatigue…Look down the other road often less traveled and choose the road toward Compassion Satisfaction where you will find support and respite stops along the way.