Looking After You: How to avoid burn out and compassion fatigue. Featured

Nobbys Beach, Newcastle, NSW Nobbys Beach, Newcastle, NSW Jodie Fleming

Feeling emotionally and physically exhausted? Or more cynical or impatient than usual? Have you been getting sick more often? Or feeling less useful? If you answered yes to these questions, chances are you are burnt out.

Many people who walk through my clinic door are 'self sacrificers' - let's call them SS's. And I'm not just talking about my clients! This is a common trait that attracts many people to the helping professions. It also seems to often strike mothers. SS's put everyone else's needs ahead of their own. This might seem like a lovely trait to have, but it can be problematic. It causes problems eventually, because guess what - even the SS needs to have their needs met. The problem is that they usually only realise it once the guage on their tank of compassion points to empty.

SS's aren't the only ones who suffer from burnout though, although they are definitely more vulnerable.

This article pulls together some concise and easy to understand information about both burnout and compassion fatigue and what you can do to prevent them from happening to you.

What is Burn Out?

While there is no definitive definition of burnout, most researchers agree that burnout is the result of chronic stress that includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and a reduction in personal accomplishment.

From Psychology Today, here is a list of the signs to look out for:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
  • Physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches (all of which should be medically assessed)
  • Increased illness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Pessimism
  • Isolation
  • Detachment
  • Feelings of apathy and hopelessness

 Compassion Fatigue

Author and researcher Beth Hudnall Stamm defines compassion fatigue as the convergence of primary stress, secondary traumatic stress and cumulative stress in the lives of helping professionals and other care providers.

The checklist of signs is similar to those for burnout but compassion fatigue also involves the syptoms of vicarious trauma, including:

  • Experiencing troubling dreams similar to a patient’s experience
  • Suddenly and involuntarily recalling a frightening experience while working with a patient or family
  • Irritable
  • Withdrawn
  • Moody
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Questioning life’s meaning

If you are not experiencing any of the above, that's fabulous! But, it's worthwhile remembering them as warning signs that you may need to check in with yourself and practice some self-care in order to prevent burnout.

If you are experiencing a cluster of the above symptoms, or worse still, all of them, then the checklist below is for you!

First, you need to cover your basic needs:

  1. Eat well
  2. Sleep well
  3. Drink lots of water

Then, revisit our article Striking the Perfect Balance. 

Remember, to reduce the amount of 'have to' activities in your week where you can and increase the amount of leisure and pleasure, social and physical activities you are doing. These will all fill your cup.

You may need to schedule a break from work all together. Regular holidays and breaks are important for your wellbeing. I know that unless I have a week off every three months, with a couple of bigger breaks scheduled in there for the year, I just don't cope. Remember, some things are much more valuable than money, like your health and wellbeing, for example.

Our The Psychology of it Facebook page posted an article today about the importance of saying no. SS's are terrible at saying no. They want people to find them useful/like them/need them, but what they (we!) forget, is that there is a limitation to what we can do, and unless we prioritise oursleves and take care of our own needs first, we won't be able to help anyone else.

Also check in with your thoughts. Are you having helpful thoughts (the ones that make you feel okay) or are you spending time listening to those unhelpful 'thought viruses' we've spoken of in other articles. These are the ones that lead to uncomfortable emotions including all of those listed above.

Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. Let others know that you aren't coping with your load at the moment and that you need some help. It's amazing what relief can come from a problem shared. Plus, it's likely you'll find out you're not the only one.

Finally, to motivate you towards adding more exercise to your week, here's a clip that's guaranteed to get you off the couch.

We'd love to read about your ideas for preventing burn out so don't forget to drop us a comment below. And don't forget to share this article if you found it useful - tell all your friends about us! Thanks for reading. x

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