Caregiver Well-Being: Managing Compassion Fatigue

June is Professional Wellness Month. Because of this, I’m going to look at compassion fatigue in caregivers. Compassion fatigue is an important topic to discuss in healthcare because there are many people who depend on others for their care. If the person providing the care finds themselves no longer caring, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Compassion fatigue can affect anyone who cares about others.

When a caregiver or healthcare provider is feeling compassion fatigue, it affects everyone. The provider themselves obviously feels it. Additionally, the patient or client is impacted, which can be a life or death situation in some cases.

My last two articles on caregiving have been about working with difficult feelings and ways to use music to practice self-care. However, this article will be focusing more directly on healthcare providers and paid caregivers. Yet, while this post is for them, you may still find it relevant to you if you don’t fit either of those roles.

Challenges Healthcare Providers and Home Health Aides Face

There over 2 million home health care workers in the United States. Adding to that are the millions of other people who work directly with patients or clients in the healthcare field. That’s a lot of people working with a lot of other people facing health challenges and life difficulties.

Before looking more deeply at compassion fatigue, I want to first look at some of the stressors that healthcare providers and professional caregivers face. It can be difficult working within a system that is all about taking care of others. Yet, the systems within which one works, aren’t always conducive to providing care.

Healthcare Providers

One of the unique stressors that healthcare providers face is finding the balance between providing effective care and working with the outside demands of third-party payers and/or corporate entities. A healthcare provider may want to give their patient their undivided attention, but time may not always allow when the expectation is that effective care can be doled out in 10-15 minute consultations. Likewise, the amount of work that it takes to get third-party reimbursement can add to a provider’s stress.

As well, some of the concerns or issues that a patient is dealing with may beyond a provider’s scope-of-practice. The provider may simply not know how to help a patient, and unfortunately, they may not know who could help the patient. For example, trauma can sometimes manifest as a physical ailment which a doctor may try treating as a physiological problem, but the treatment isn’t helping the patient.

Home Health Aides and Paid Caregivers

Similarly, professional caregivers also face high rates of burnout due to the demands of the work. If they work for an organization, the training they receive may not be fully adequate for effectively managing the complex needs of people. Likewise, they may face staffing challenges which can result in a bigger workload or a lower paycheck.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue affects our ability to feel and care for others. When we’ve been overtaken by the trauma and challenges of others, we may stop being able to care like we need to. Every aspect of our being is affected. In the video below, I talk about what compassion fatigue is and how it differs from burnout.

Tips for Managing Compassion Fatigue

If you find yourself experiencing compassion fatigue, it’s important that you get help. This can involve talking with a counselor or seeking supervision. But it can also involve reassessing your own self-care practices. Because oftentimes as professionals in the caring field, we focus so much on the needs of others that we forget our own needs.

So, if you are one of those people who has neglected your own needs, here are some easy things that you can do:

Physical Activity

Engaging in some sort of physical activity is a great way to care for yourself. Movement can allow emotions or energy that have been stuck in the body to move through so that you aren’t holding on to them anymore. As well, physical activity is just good for your overall health in general.

And you don’t have to devote a lot of time to exercise. Studies suggest that even short bursts of physical activity can be beneficial. Some of the activities I often suggest to people include:

  • Dancing or moving to music
  • Walking
  • Riding a bike
  • Yoga
  • Martial arts

Tapping Into Your Own Creativity

Oftentimes we can feel stuck or dull when we’ve lost our connection to our own creativity. Creativity doesn’t have to involve some grand or complex art project. It simply means that we allow ourselves the opportunity to do something creative.

Such acts of creativity can be:

  • Singing or making music
  • Cooking a homemade meal
  • Flower-arranging
  • Drawing or painting
  • Knitting or sewing

Taking In The Sound of Silence

Don’t underestimate the power of silence. In our sensory overload society, we often get bombarded with sounds and distractions. Taking time to enjoy the silence, whether through meditation, spending time out in nature, or by just taking space, can help you to gain a new and hopefully refreshed perspective. It doesn’t have to be a weekend-long silent retreat; just a few minutes can help.

What Works For You?

If you’re a healthcare provider or caregiver, what are some strategies that you find helpful in managing compassion fatigue? Please share them in the comments down below. Your suggestions just may help someone else who is struggling from compassion fatigue.

And if you’re a healthcare organization interested in offering some music-based wellness opportunities for your employees, contact me. I can create a customized program to help manage compassion fatigue based on your organization’s needs. If you suspect compassion fatigue to be an issue, it’s important to take care of it before it becomes a more serious problem.

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