Compassion fatigue. Burnout. These are terms you’ve heard before, and they commonly apply to people in helping professions. See, the “problem” with us is that we over-empathize, which is probably why we ended up in our professions to begin with. Empathy is one of the characteristics that makes us so good at our jobs, and it’s also what makes self-care strategies necessary so we can continue to be effective.
Compassion fatigue and burnout are two separate things, though one tends to lead to the other. In short, compassion fatigue is the accumulation of stress we feel, due in large part to the “weight” of the issues of our clients. I have heard it described as a kind of vicarious PTSD, in which clinicians over-empathize and feel the psychological effects of a client’s struggles and/or traumas. Burnout, on the other hand, is a sense of disillusionment with one’s job. It often leads to changing careers or becoming significantly less effective and feeling unhappy.
SO…what can we do about this? If you think you’re really struggling with compassion fatigue or approaching burnout, my first recommendation would be to see a psychologist or counselor who specializes in that kind of thing. Many medical and helping professionals do this, and there is nothing wrong with it. If anything, you’ll become a stronger clinician.
For preventative measures, here are 6 things you can do STARTING TODAY that can help in the area of self-care.
1. Listen to/play music for pleasure
As music therapists, we are always playing for others, and playing with the intention of meeting some kind of goal. Give yourself a gift and listen to whatever was your favorite album 5, 10 or 15 years ago. Pick up that flute you practiced so much in college but have barely touched since. Play for enjoyment, just for music’s sake.
2. Take mini-vacations
Who says a vacation has to involve days off of work? And does there even have to be a time limit? Employ the “vacation mentality” when you’re on your lunch break, or for 10 minutes in the afternoon. The most important thing here is to completely take your mind off work. Someone stops by the office? “Sorry dude, I’m on vacation. I’ll call you in ten.” You will come back to work feeling refreshed and ready to take care of business.
3. Identify stressors and make changes
There is a word that many in the helping profession never learn: no. If “opportunities” (aka, things nobody else will do) arise, say no. Identify the stressors in your life, and see what can be eliminated or at least reduced. That might mean “retiring” from the handbell choir you don’t enjoy anyway or respectfully declining to give a presentation that occurs the same week as a hundred other things.
4. Rely on your support network
Call your friends. Call your family. Call the college roommate you haven’t talked to in a year. You don’t even have to vent all your problems (that’s what the counselor is for). Just by staying engaged with people who are important to you and, importantly, away from the office, you will find dozens of reasons to smile. More smiles=healthier and happier. Duh.
5. Identify meaning and enhance
This goes along with suggestion number 3. Identify the things in your life and job that provide you with the greatest sense of meaning, and increase those to the best of your ability.
6. Eat right, sleep well, and Jazzercize
Ok, it doesn’t have to be Jazzercise. But do yoga, go for walks, learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, whatever floats your boat. But do SOMETHING to keep you active. I believe the technical rationale for this is: Moving your body around releases all kinds of cool chemicals in your brain that make you smilier and smarter.
This is by no means an exhaustive list! What kinds of things do you do to take care of yourself?
Until next time!