Now that you’ve read definitions of compassion fatigue (part 1), found out why it happens and know its symptoms (part 2), it is time to talk about what can be done about it! I mentioned in the first article, that compassion fatigue seems to happen just before burnout. Knowing many of the difficult ramifications that burnout produces, I am grateful to know that preventative measures exist to help us as we work in our helping professions. Today’s article is all about what we can do to stay mentally and emotionally healthy as global workers. This allows us to take a proactive stance instead of a reactive one.
Are you familiar with a Plimsoll line on a ship?
Let me explain it here, before you read any further. The Plimsoll line is the line marked on the outside of a ship used by workers who load items. Once the ship is heavy enough to reach that line, nothing more can be added before the ship begins to sink. As you take a moment to put that image in your mind, I encourage you to think about that red line for your own life. It is important that you recognize where it is and stop adding items, before it’s too late. (And if it is “too late,” start where you are and work with God to get your Plimsoll line above water.)
Here are twenty suggestions to prevent and/or combat compassion fatigue. Because of limited space, I only gave short descriptions of each. Feel free to ask for clarification in the comment section.
1. Say “no” to good things: your time is limited, so you can’t be involved in everything
2. Spend time daily with God in prayer and meditating on His Word: don’t rush through this; your soul needs stillness, so that you can think & reflect
3. Put on your “oxygen mask” before attempting to help anyone else (choose the oxygen-giving activities you need)
4. Examine your expectations to see if they are realistic; if you aren’t sure, then ask someone else to tell you if they are
5. Share your feelings with someone else such as a co-worker who has given you permission to share, a counselor or a therapist. This is like a release valve in a pressure cooker
6. Rest: this means to actually sleep, not just do low-key activities
7. Clarify your personal and emotional boundaries: don’t compare yourself to others or take on things when you aren’t in a place emotionally to do them
8. Work within your strengths: you will likely have to do some things outside of your wheelhouse, but if everything is like that, then you will have a hard time finding any fulfillment
9. Delegate responsibilities: trust your teammates and let them do things without you or in a way that is different than how you would do them
10. Have an Absolute “YES” Card for a few people/things in your life: write these on a card and no matter what is going on in your life, you ALWAYS say “YES” to these people/things; this gives you freedom to keep the most important people/activities as a priority and gives you a sense of control with your time
11. Practice self-care: this is chosen by you and helps you to feel refreshed
12. Make space for both work and leisure: examine your work/life balance and make sure you are not working 24/7
13. Recognize your own stress signals: imagine these like a stop light and try to keep yourself in the green and yellow areas; if you don’t know what you act like when you are on yellow and going toward red, then ask someone else
14. Stop negative self-talk: we can be very hard on ourselves, but if the things we tell ourselves can’t be said to a best friend, then we shouldn’t be saying them to ourselves either
15. Take short breaks throughout the day
16. Practice mindfulness & deep breathing techniques: these help you to stay grounded and present where you are, instead of focusing on your past or future
17. Schedule less: take a look at your current weekly schedule and make sure it has some “white space”; if it is so jammed packed that you couldn’t ask a best friend to be you for the week, then you need to take some things out
18. Use a “slow burning fuel” to keep refreshed: this is something that you choose to do regularly that provides you with personal joy (examples include taking walks, watching movies, eating good food, being with friends, reading, or exercising)
19. Use a 24 hour rule for answering non-emergency requests: instead of agreeing to help someone as soon as they ask, give them a waiting period and only help if necessary
20. Go on vacation and don’t take any work with you
As you think about how you might implement some of these suggestions, I encourage you to come back for my final article. I will share WHY this conversation matters, Biblical concepts related to this topic, and give you resources, so that you can go further in the conversation.
Resources for some of the practical suggestions listed:
- Ronald Koteskey’s brochure on compassion fatigue
- The Cost of Caring: 10 Ways to Prevent Compassion Fatigue
- What M’s Need to Know About Compassion Fatigue by Sarita Hartz, blog post January 28, 2016
- Jackie Rivera’s presentation on compassion fatigue from CMCA (March 2019)
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