Chronic stress and a perfectionist streak can destroy you. Over the long haul you can quit caring–Burn Out–or care so unrelentingly you bleed out emotionally–Compassion Fatigue (CF). With CF you can’t stop yourself from getting involved the problems of others, so to recharge, you overindulge in things that aren’t necessarily good for you, from sugar to shopping. When that doesn’t do the job, you try to keep your energy from leaking away by isolating yourself, not only from friends but from your own body. (For more information on CF, see my blog post, (You feel sooo exhausted. Do you have Compassion Fatigue?
Not only does Compassion Fatigue take a toll on your personal life, it can eviscerate your practice. People with CF feel no one can do as good a job as they do. They work long hours, snipe at others for not working enough, and prevent coworkers from developing new skills and ideas by insisting that their way is the best, and therefore only, way.The things you do to care for patients and their families that should build your practice wind up hurting it.
The good news is, even smart, Type A chocoholics can prevent or treat Compassion Fatigue with these six techniques.
Research confirms that even mild exercise is good for your mood as well as well as your health. Regular exercise lessens the worry and the blues that come with setting impossible standards for yourself.Here’s what WebMD says: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depressionBeing outside in nature for twenty minutes a day makes you feel more alive and energetic. What’s more, outdoors you get a dose of Vitamin D, which fights depression and enhances thinking. Check out this study on nature and mood. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603172219.htm Instead of another double espresso, take a walk around the block. Declare a five-minute dance party.
2. Make sure you sleep seven to eight hours a night.
Americans are sleep deprived. We need it to give our bodies break and to clear the cobwebs from our brains. If you handle your work stress by cruising the internet till the wee hours of the morning, you risk poor thinking, slow reaction time, and trouble learning.
3. Eat healthy food and take time to enjoy it.
You know those doughnuts aren’t good for you, but when you focus everywhere but on yourself, you may take the shortcut to energy and grab a hunk of fried dough smothered in chocolate to give you a boost. The sad part is, you probably won’t even enjoy it. The next time you get hungry, pick something with protein and fiber to sustain you. Then, and this is the hard part, sit down to eat. Before you take your first bite, stop and inhale deeply. How does your food smell? What color is it? Taking a few extra seconds to tune into your senses will not only make the meal more delicious, it will help you reconnect to the body you’ve been ignoring.
4. Talk to your neighbors.
I know, I know, you’re an introvert who needs alone time to re-energize. The problem is, Compassion Fatigue exaggerates your need to escape. You forget how to interact, and the next thing you know, you can’t make conversation even with the ones you love. If that sounds familiar, start small. Greet the receptionist when you come in. Ask the kid bagging your groceries how his day is going. You’ll be surprised at how less alone in the world you feel.
5. Tap a source of strength and inspiration.
We all need a life outside work, and most people benefit from connecting to something that braces us in the bad times and expands our minds when we’re ready. For some this will be a spiritual practice. Others read poetry or keep journals. Simple meditation can put life in perspective and remind you that what is happening in this moment, no matter how important it seems, will pass
6. Work with a counselor.
If you’ve tried the first five techniques and find you still overcommit to work and undercommit to yourself, it’s time to get outside help. Since your situation isn’t new to the profession, many local VMAs and other animal health organizations have support systems in place for veterinarians, technicians, and others who face challenges in their work and personal lives. Veterinary Information Network(VIN.com) has online boards that focus on practice issues and a confidential one, Vets4Vets, for those that want a private channel to find help locally.When you choose a mental health professional, find one who deals with your kind of concerns, one that you connect to personally. If getting through CF were easy, you’d have done it. It’s time to have someone on your side. Ask a friend to recommend someone, check with your physician, call your clergyperson, or see what the community mental health center suggests. You wouldn’t ask your patient to suffer; why should you? Since no one can have all the good ideas, let’s share ours. What do you do restore yourself? What are you doing to avoid Compassion Fatigue?