Let me just start this post by stating something very important. For whoever needs to hear this right now:
Whatever feelings you may be experiencing right now, it is all valid. You are not alone.
It goes without saying that life looks very different for most right now.
- Being a full-time work from home parent keeping the kiddos entertained,
- Being in charge of (and trying to stick by) a "flexible" schedule,
- Lacking that support system (Thank god for Zoom and FaceTime, but let's face it that doesn't replace unwinding with co-workers during happy hours, or having a big backyard barbecue, or enjoy an adult chat while watching your child's sporting event,
- Finding ways to stay up with current events since now more than ever it's important, but also finding that boundary line.
- Cancelling family reunions, baby showers, weddings....
It goes on and on.
For me personally, I am struggling. I'm back to working my regular hours at work (which I am very grateful for, believe me), but with now all these new stressors both work related and general stressors. Don't get me wrong- I am incredibly engaged and dedicated to my work. These are important and necessary characteristics to have to be successful in my opinion, but those same characteristics can lead to exhaustion and burnout ... also known as compassion fatigue.
When checking in with my patients at the beginning of their visit, I hear their compassion fatigue as well- whether it's the mom who loves her young son tremendously, but is breaking down physically and mentally- no longer has the energy to combat every single fight he puts up. Another patient feeling exhausted working full-time from home and has been driving four towns over to bring groceries to her mother twice a week. Another patient's symptoms of GI issues increasing with staying home more, and thus less movement/exercise since her gym is closed- she's feeling defeated as she works tirelessly to get a workout routine at home, but keeps coming up short with continued pain/discomfort. Another patient feeling very overwhelmed by the news, wanting to participate in marches and protests but fearful of being in public spaces around other people. She says this feeling of stagnation is really getting to her and it's leaving her feeling anxious and is now having difficulty sleeping at night.
Guys, this is all compassion fatigue. It's very real. Many of us are experiencing this right now. Caring about ourselves, our families, our communities wellbeing, as well as our nation/world well-being is a tremendous trait to take on. But that does leave us vulnerable to the possibility of burnout. Compassion and burnout are not mutually exclusive, but independent variables that often cross over each other. We know from studies (and personal experiences) that those who are very involved and put their heart into anything that are working on, are much more likely to suffer from burnout.
Here are a few signs + symptoms of compassion fatigue (aka burn out)
How many of these did you check off? I have at least five of these.
Okay great, now what?
Well it's simple. It's time to SLOOOOOOOOWWWW down. Slow down. That's it. Many of us actually have that time to slow down right now since our schedules and routines are so off, but we are still running away from actually sitting down with and engaging with our thoughts. What is my body really telling me with these symptoms? WHY am I actually feeling these signs of overwhelm, disconnect, etc? Am I affected by things that I do not have control over? Are these small steps I can take to improve my situation? Here are my top 3 tips for SLOWING DOWN.
1. Daily CHECK INs
This is where those daily "check-ins" becoming really important. I suggest starting by spending at least 5 minutes daily checking in. We all can find 5 minutes somewhere in our day - in the shower, while brushing our teeth, while taking our morning BM. Or maybe we just wake up 5 minutes earlier. During these quick check-ins, can check where your shoulders are. Think about your feet being firmly on the floor. You can even think of 2-3 things to be grateful for- it can be as small as you are grateful for a sunny day. I don't have to be too in depth during these little quick check ins.
I also suggest a one-time a week 20 minute "check in"- take a notebook + pen, and start writing. Figure out your top priorities and concerns. Try not to make this writing session into a check list. Let your mind go, and at the end you can write an action plan! This concept is called reframing.
Slowing down means going back to the basics- self care, and finding those boundaries.
I have been combating my compassion fatigue with..... PEACHES. Hope I have totally just lost you, but yes peaches. I have a gorgeous peach tree in my backyard that are ripe and ready to eat. Every morning I pick a yummy peach, wash it, cut it up, and eat it realllllly sloowwwly. Enjoying it. Appreciating it.
This was my yummy breakfast yesterday morning.
Here's the peach tree!
2. Incorporate a meditation practice
This is actually a continuation of tip #1. I have been combating my compassion fatigue by waking up earlier and getting a walk with my pup, Theo. Waking up at 5:30am was tough initially, but is now much easier. I'm tired earlier in the evening, so I go to bed earlier. Then I wake up earlier and round-n-round it goes. I honestly need the walks more than Theo does. During the walk I either leave my phone at home, OR listen to a meditation app- It just depends on my mood. Starting the day off this way REALLY helps my mindset.
Here is a couple recent photos of my 11 year old Pomeranian Shiba-Inu THEO!
If you are open to starting a meditation practice, I recommend starting with a guided meditation. This is where someone is guiding you through a meditation, hence a guide. If they have a soft Australian accent, that helps calm even more. There are a couple apps that I recommend for starting meditation practice- CALM, HEADSPACE, and SMILING MIND.
Headspace is currently free for healthcare providers, you just need an NPI number.
Calm and Smiling Mind are both free! Isn't that nice. Headspace also has some free options as well.
Even a one-minute breath practice at lunch can make a world of a difference. It feels funny and awkward at first, but I promise if you stick with it you will find benefits.
3. Spread joy with humor!
My husband is sooooooo good at this. It's partly why I married him. He knows how to make every situation more fun, even essential things like going to the grocery store.
Search out the people at your work who like to joke and laugh. Get a Zoom call with girlfriends going, once a week or every two weeks. Make it a theme like a scavenger hunt or play a game. Comedy and laughter are some of the cheapest medication!
I played a joke on my husband this week. When I was in the bathroom, I asked him to bring me a panty liner. He was weirded out by my request (ohhhh boys....), but brought me one. I decided to leave panty liners all over the house to surprise him - he didn't think it was that funny but I thought it was hilarious! We play jokes on each other all the time, or add little bets where whoever loses has to do the dishes. (You should see our sink right now. I need to figure out something to bet...) We once decided on what apartment to move into by a roll of the dice, true story.
YouTube is on everyone's TV now. So instead of watching the nightly news right before bed, put on YouTube cat videos. I promise you will be laughing with in 3 minutes.
So those are my top 3 ways of combating compassion fatigue. It's easy to wish this time away or want to fast forward, or even try to keep busy. But THIS IS THE TIME to slow down. We have been provided this opportunity, so let's take advantage.