November 27, 2019

Fighting Compassion Fatigue: Tips for Self-Care

By Erin Hanna
Associate Program Director

To reduce the odds that caregivers generally will become so emotionally overextended that they can no longer function competently, or contentedly, in their chosen roles, here’s a selection of proactive and reactive methods of self-care:

Breathe. To feel calmer through inducing the relaxation response, engage in slow, steady, deep breathing, which will activate your stress-mitigating parasympathetic nervous system.

Feel your body. When you’re in the presence of someone expressing strong emotions, guard against the emotional contagion your empathy renders you vulnerable to by feeling your feet on the floor and wiggling your toes. (This technique can be seen as getting out of someone else’s shoes and back into your own.) If you’re standing, bend your knees slightly; if sitting, feel your bottom in the chair. Be mindful of — without getting caught up in — all your bodily sensations.

Set limits on your exposure to upsetting information. As much as feasible, carefully monitor how much time and attention you give to distressful stimuli. (Tara Well, 2017)

As much as possible, reduce stressful workloads that are making you feel overwhelmed.

Take regular vacations. And if that’s not tenable, practice some form of visualization, so that (at least in fantasy) you can retreat to your private, flower-filled meadow, secluded beach, or high-in-the-air mountain or cloud.

Meditate to better assimilate and integrate your emotions — as well as achieve more distance from them.

Journal. Give vent to — and more thoroughly process — whatever might be worrying or agitating you.

Exercise regularly to stay healthy, restore your energy, and positively alter your emotional biochemistry.

Talk to a trusted personal friend about what’s distressing you or seek therapy when you recognize that your work (whether mandated or volunteered for) is bringing up personal issues that, unresolved, require professional assistance.

Make sure your diet is healthy — one that’s truly nourishing and promotes stamina and vitality.

Reach out to support groups or networks.

Generate a set of coping strategies customized to your individual needs and predilections (e.g., hiking, yoga, joining a band, prayer, or any spiritual practice that can help keep you “balanced” and restore your psychological equilibrium).

Devote more time to hobbies you enjoy, which can divert attention from ongoing stressors at work.

Do whatever you need to make sure you’re getting enough restful, restorative sleep.

* (Note: the 11 tips above are all adapted/expanded upon from the Amy McNamara article cited above.)

Caregiving for a loved one is both rewarding…and very challenging. The critical piece to success that is commonly neglected is taking care of oneself. Taking a few minutes to identify one or two of these items to do each day can help support you in your caregiving role as well. So, please, take care!

Erin Hanna, M.S., Ed. is Associate Program Director at Alternatives. She can be reached at 800-798-0988.

Filed Under: Family, News, Personal Growth