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Compassion Fatigue: What to do

Group of happy doctors

Self-care is too often an afterthought for busy helping professionals, yet compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard working with the complex suffering of patients in difficult situations.  The Five Ways to Wellbeing is a set of evidence-based actions which draw on state-of-the-art research about mental capital and mental wellbeing through life. They are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give. They were developed by New Economics Foundation (NEF), the UK's leading think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice. The Project, published in 2008, drew on state-of-the-art research about mental capital and mental wellbeing through life. 

1. Connect 

Feeling overwhelmed or overburdened?  You want to disconnect and distance yourself? In that contect, the idea of connection may sound paradoxical. We need to feel close and valued by others. Our social relationships are critical for wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health.

  • Have at least one meaningful conversation every day.
  • Talk to someone instead of sending an email
  • Put five minutes aside to find out how someone really is ñ really listen
  • Give a colleague a lift to work or share the journey home with them.

2. Be active 

You feel so tired and worn out that you want to pour a drink and watch Netflix? Tempting! But get up and move.  Get the app to record your steps.  We all know that regular exercise lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups, and its seriously good for cognitions.  It doesnít have to be intense for you to feel good ñ walking with a neighbour can have the benefit of encouraging social interactions as well providing some level of exercise.

  • Take the stairs not the lift
  • Go for a walk at lunchtime
  • Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the final part of your journey to work
  • Have a kick-about in a local park
  • Do some 'easy exercise', like stretching, before you leave for work in the morning

3. Practice mindfulness

Reminding yourself to ëtake noticeí to strengthen and broaden awareness.  Being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances well-being and savouring ëthe momentí can reaffirm lifeís priorities.  Heightened awareness enhances your self-understanding and promotes positive choices based on your values and motivations.  Take some time to enjoy the moment and the environment around you.

  • Have a 'clear the clutter' day
  • Take notice of how your colleagues are feeling or acting
  • Take a different route on your journey to or from work
  • Visit a new place for lunch.

4. Learn

Life long learning - corny but true, it enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life.  Practice setting goals; this relates to adult learning has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing.

  • Sign up for a class
  • Read the news or a book
  • Set up a book club
  • Do a crossword or Sudoku
  • Research something youíve always wondered about

5. Give

You give so much - again paradoxically find a way of giving outside work that matter to you. Commit an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period and see how you feel!

  • Thank someone
  • Smile
  • Give to the United Way
  • Tell someone how helpful/important they are to you, how much you enjoy their contribution

Organizational resilience boosting to reduce the risk of burnout and compassion fatigue:

  • Create an open environment where staff can mutual support each other and have the chance to talk about how they are affected by their work.
  • Offer trainings about CF and burnout, to recognize the symptoms, and acquire self-care strategies.
  • Share the caseload among team members, particularly the most difficult cases.
  • Make time for social interaction among staff that builds cohesion and trust.
  • A facility that encourages healthy self-care habits such as good nutrition, sleep, and work breaks. 
  • Allow employees control over their schedule. 
  • Reduce hours spent working directly with traumatized individuals ñ balance case loads. 


What is Compassion Fatigue?

How to Self-Assess Compassion Fatigue