Taking Care of the Caretaker

When we take care of ourselves we give the world the best of us,
instead of what’s left of us…
“Compassion Fatigue is a disorder that affects those who do their work well.”
– Charles Figley.

Healing Space for Healers

The Free State Institute for Mindfulness had the privilege this month to present a Healing Space for Healers work session for the hero’s, healers and helpers of 2 Psychiatric Hospitals in Bloemfontein – both highly recommended mental health clinics. Being human, all of us can remember a moment in our job or home we could give the best of us to others. But, we can also can remember a moment we could only give what was left of us.

Compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue can sneak up on us. This happens especially when we neglect our own self-compassion, self-care and awareness of our own well-being. The one day we give our all, finding it easy to care, show compassion and to make a difference in others. The next day we suddenly find ourselves dreading to go to work, experiencing resentment, irritability, impatience and reduced empathy.

According to Christina Maslach, we know that we are in trouble when we start to experience extreme emotional and physical exhaustion, depersonalization (loss of compassion, cynicism, lack of empathy and care), as well as lack of personal accomplishment.

If we are not mindful or aware of our inner experience, we could easily miss out on the signs, and it may lead to burnout, depression or anxiety.

Aside from the importance of our own well-being, burnout and compassion fatigue may lead to ethical and legal implications if left untreated.
We are especially vulnerable to burnout when we have difficulty with healthy boundaries, when there are high expectations of performance from ourselves or others, when we work with those at the low point of their lives, and when we take on what is not “ours”. Another reason why we burnout is that we tend to avoid leisure time because the sense of emptiness is so intense that it is just too painful to be in our own company. Thus, we work just harder, or turn to unhealthy quick fixes or distraction to experience short-term relief.
Being in the Compassion Business, (whether we are healers or helpers for children, adults or the elderly), we have a huge responsibility to manage good self-care, so to prevent burnout or compassion fatigue. In this way we can keep on being there for others.
We can only do this by knowing ourselves with non-judgmental awareness. We need to stay aware of our own level of stress (1 to 10), our own triggers and stressors, as well as our own unique signs and symptoms thereof.

Research at the Center for Studies on Human Stress in Canada

“The first step is to recognize when you are under stress. There may be some clues that we are under stress, that we must become aware of.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Research at the Center for Studies on Human Stress in Canada implies that the three most effective ways to deal with a huge amount of stress are:

1. Relaxation and mindful meditation (mindfulness meditation, prayer, being creative)

You can find your own way to retreat e.g. mindfulness exercises, journaling, prayer, music or art.
The Being BOLD exercise is a simple quick way to practice mindfulness during your workday:
B – Breathe. Become aware of 3 deep abdominal in- and out-breaths.
O – Observe your inner experience: your feelings (name it, validate it, feel it), your thoughts and bodily sensations – not trying to change it in this moment, and trying not to judge it – lots of self-compassion.
L – Listen to your values and needs. What life values are important to me at this stage in my life? (respect, compassion, kindness, achievement). What do I need in this moment that is good for me, to be okay.
D – Decide how to take the next few steps and Do it…

Being Bold

2. Physical Activity

Write down your plan of action for your physical exercise and eating plan for the next three months.

3. Social Support and Connection

Write down who are the give-and-take loved ones in your life, and how you are going to strengthen the connection with them in the next three months. Stay aware of creative healthy boundaries.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” – Brené Brown

Mariki Smith (PhD Psychology) can be reached at mariki@fsmindfulness.co.za