Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Suffering From 'Compassion Fatigue'? Here's Help

Do any of these sound like you?

1. Your aging parent's needs are ballooning, and your patience and energy are eroding.
2. When the phone rings past 10 pm, your blood pressure spikes, and your first thought is, "Is Mom OK?"
3. As a professional working with elderly clients and their families, your day is often punctuated by crises.

Can you relate? If so, you're at risk for stress overload, also known as caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue. The good things you do for your parents--or your clients--may be great for them but bad for you when done in excess, setting you up for illness.

How do you combat burnout? Rob Luck, Director of Social Services and Special Programs for Providence Hospice of Seattle, addressed this earlier this year at Seattle Senior Care Coalition, a group of professionals serving seniors and their families. He offered these suggestions.

1. Maintain boundaries. The Bible says it this way: "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no.' Set limits on your time, your work, your thoughts to keep balance in your life.
2. Create a written plan of care for yourself. Luck suggests we develop a personal mission state which includes four or five key values, such as intimacy, self care, spirituality, etc. For each value, plan daily activities. Exercising at the gym and scheduling doctor's appointments fall under self-care. Spending time with a spouse and children go under intimacy. For more help with mission statements, see Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
3. Foster some sort of spiritual center, however you define it. Luck says that tapping into something bigger than ourselves will give us strength to work for our parents and still keep other parts of our lives intact. "The work we do (with our parents and our clients) is sacred," says Luck. "But so is caring for ourselves."

Do you have any suggestions for avoiding burnout?

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