It’s been quite a time, hasn’t it?
Everyday personal and professional struggles are, and continue to be, compounded by COVID. Social workers and other hospital staff know this all too well. What we are seeing now, three years into COVID, is what is called Compassion Fatigue.
I found this definition of Compassion Fatigue on the Canadian Medical Association’s website:
“The cost of caring for others or for their emotional pain, resulting from the desire to help relieve the suffering of others. It is also known as vicarious or secondary trauma, referencing the way that other people’s trauma can become their own. The symptoms of compassion fatigue make it more difficult to provide patient care and to perform other duties.” www.cma.ca
That’s a mouthful, but I’m sure you’re not surprised by the definition. Not to be confused with burnout, Compassion Fatigue most often affects healthcare professionals. With the compounding COVID situations of bed shortages, staff shortages, and lack of PPE, things have gotten much more difficult and stressful. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that!
Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue
There are many warning signs, but some of the most common ones I have seen and heard of lately include:
- feeling detached, numb, and emotionally disconnected
- reduced feelings of empathy and sensitivity
- neglect of self-care
- increased anxiety, sadness, anger, and irritability
- heightened irritability with co-workers or clients
And if Compassion Fatigue wasn’t a tricky enough emotional state to navigate, those who are “Double Duty Caregivers” will have an even trickier time.
Let me give you an example of that.
Although I do not work in a hospital, I am still working with families all day long who have an ill parent in the hospital. These families are burnt out themselves and are looking to me to give them support as we navigate the healthcare system and housing industry. This includes taking on a lot of their emotional state, working with tight deadlines, and genuinely wanting to reduce their, and their parents, difficulties.
Couple this with parenting my 5-year-old daughter, who has a lot of emotional triggers as well as daily needs, and well … things tend to become quite overwhelming and difficult to keep up with. Another added layer comes for those of us who are members of the Sandwich Generation, which means you are caring for your young children as well as aging parents.
Really, some days it can seem as though there is no escape. I know, pretty grim, right? However, this is just real, raw talk between us. I can tell you that my own personal self-care is difficult to stay up on, as the overwhelming fatigue I fight with (and which seems to win on many days), mixed with anxiety and depression, can be crippling.
Ok, so how do we ease this, together? I’ll work on me if you promise to work on you.
Below you will find my top 5 Tips for Double Duty Caregivers, which encompasses Compassion Fatigue as well as Sandwich Generation stressors and burnout. I will also include the names of any apps or systems that I am using.
But first, I would like to emphasize that it’s progress, not perfection. By nature, I am a perfectionist but in this arena, it doesn’t get me as far.
1. Meditate, every day if possible. Remember, it’s progress, not perfection. Like me, you may think “Holy F, I cannot get this meditating thing down.” I totally get it. Finding gratitude that you were able to set and stick to the dedicated time each day will build your meditating muscle and reinforce the habit. Once you get it ingrained, meditating will start to help. I set aside 10 minutes a day, that's it. I’d love it to be more, and I’m working up to doing it more times during the day, but for now, for me, it needs to be small and manageable.
Where can you add in 10 minutes? If not 10, go for 5. Every minute helps. Also, just so it’s said, your mind will wander during meditation, a lot! It’s all part of the process. You’ve got this!
The app I use most often is Down Dog Meditation, which you can use for free or paid. I also use this at night to do a sleeping meditation, which I really love.
2. Fasting. As I am a stress eater and tend to do most of that at night, fasting gives me the habit of having all my food and alcoholic drinks finished by 6:30 pm, latest by 7. How does fasting help?
Controlling overeating/weight loss. Many of us have gained the COVID 20.
It helps with sleep, as you are not digesting still when you go to bed - which also helps with weight control as well
It helps me not be starving in the morning. I don’t know about you, but the later in the evening I eat, the earlier I am hungry in the morning, which also makes me eat more during the day.
3. Walking 10,000 Steps. I work at achieving this every day. If you are working in a hospital setting, this may be super easy for you. For others with desk jobs, probably not so much. Either way, having this as a goal has been a helpful marker that I have moved during my day. You can try a step counter or Fitbit, which is what I use.
4. Morning and evening routines. These routines give you structure in your day and once you have them established (in a way that works for you) you can then add on other self-care items with ease. As noted above, having a routine that works for you is what’s important here. Keep in mind that you already have some sort of routine established. Taking note of it, and gauging whether it helps or hurts your “future you,” is paramount.
In my morning and evening routines, I have included thinking about setting up my future self for success - even in the short term and for daily activities. For me as Morning Amy, that includes taking a few more minutes in the evening to get the kitchen clean, because a clean kitchen makes my mornings so much easier. How do you want Morning Sarah, Jess, Scott, or Emma to feel?
5. Write/mark sh*t down! I will be the first to tell you that when it comes to tracking, journaling or just writing down things about myself and my journey, it’s like pulling teeth. There are those of you out there who are pros at this, and to you I will say, don’t take it for granted and use it to propel your self-care journey forward! I note the habits I have achieved during the day in a Dollar Store agenda and then mark it in a habit tracker (yes, there’s an app for that!). The reason I push through to do this? When you start to see your efforts add up, it helps keep you motivated.
For all of the above, I use a habit tracker called Loop Habit Tracker. I specifically like this one because it is easy and straightforward. It allows me to put a widget on my phone screen so I can see the month and how many times I successfully managed my habit. At the end of the month, it tells me in a percentage how well I did, which I write down (in my Dollar Store agenda) each month. Seeing that I’m improving is a nice boost, especially when I’m struggling.
Compassion Fatigue and Sandwich Generation Burnout are here, and most likely not going away any time soon. We need to sharpen our skills in order to manage it and protect ourselves. Many of us are drawn to the helping professions, but that doesn’t mean we should give all of ourselves away to others. If we do that, there will be nothing left at the end of the day for you or others.