In your profession, do you work with people and or animals who are suffering? Or are you someone who is actively engaged in the struggle to stop any further devastation of our beautiful planet? Do you listen to countless stories of abuse, hardship and trauma?Does it often feel as if you are swimming through oceans of pain, your heart breaking time and time again, because of what you bear witness to? There is an unavoidable personal cost associated with this work, because, as compassionate helpers we cannot be exposed to the pain and crisis of others, and our planet whilst remaining unaffected.

Compassion fatigue refers to the intense emotional and physical exhaustion that develops over the course of our career because of our attending to the needs of others.  Vicarious trauma is about the transformation of our inner experience, a shift in our worldview where our fundamental beliefs about the world are altered, and are underpinned by loss and fear.

What can we do to reduce the risk of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma?

1.    Be mindful that the work we do extracts a cost from us.  This is not a sign of weakness, it is because we are compassionate human beings who feel deeply about what we do. Therefore, do not allow shame, guilt and negative self-judgments to make a home in your consciousness.  Stay connected and avoid isolation.

2.    Self-care is paramount and it is easy. There is no way that we can do the work we do without looking after ourselves.  Sooner or later we will get a wakeup call which stops us in our tracks and reminds us that we need to include ourselves in the circle of compassion.  Here are some suggestions; Do one kind thing for yourself every day, learn to say “no”, watch the clouds, walk in nature, schedule time for yourself daily, practice receiving from others, listen to music, sing, dance and ask for help when you need it.

3.    Resolve any personal traumas, because our connection with those who are suffering has many ways of unearthing our own wounds, which could negatively impact on how we work. Seek help in healing your own stress and trauma.

4.    Limit your trauma inputs, think about your day.  How does your day begin?  Do you start by watching, listening or reading the news? How many stories of suffering and graphic images of devastation do you come across before even getting to work and being exposed to more pain?  What about your trip home, do you listen to the news on the radio? Watch the news again at night, what do you watch before you go to bed?  It is important to recognise the amount of trauma we absorb consciously and unconsciously during our day. Let’s be more mindful about protecting ourselves from trauma overload.

5.    Recognise your early warning signs that indicate stress.  Did you know that our body is aware of stress before our conscious mind?  Regularly check in with your body, where are you feeling tension?  Are you breathing deeply?  How are your energy levels?  During the day start to regularly ask yourself, “How am I going today”.  If you are feeling stressed, be kind to yourself and act to ease the impact.

6.    Know your needs and communicate them.  There is a common myth that accompanies the work that we do, and that is that the needs of others come before our own.  We are very good at identifying what our patients, clients and family’s needs are, not so good at identifying our own.  Take time to reflect on what you need, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, and make sure you communicate and have them met

My favourite quote from Naomi Remen sums things up perfectly,

“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it, is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

If you love what you do, then love and care for yourself even more!