HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT – #BellLetsTalk
I started blogging as a coping mechanism. A creative outlet for the almost daily upsets experienced by animal-welfare advocates. As much as I deflected and emptied my emotions through these written words, I seemed to attract ten times as much negativity in the course of each week interacting with people in the real world. Knowing how much I care about animals, it seemed people felt compelled to share the most horrific stories with me. As if I am somehow immune or, during my years of volunteering, I must be void of emotions. Although I felt my emotions were, at times out of control, that was not the case!
It seemed each time I turned on the news there was a heartrending story relating to animals: abduction, abuse, house fires resulting in death, etc. Some stories would haunt me for days, and I would start crying at the thought of it.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
My husband urged me to take a break from it all: the writing, the reading and research, and volunteering. No chance. Advocating and Volunteering gives me a sense of purpose and makes me feel that, in a small way, I can contribute to making a difference.
I am blessed to have an incredible support system in place. After deciding this can’t be what every animal-welfare advocate feels, I reached out to this group of amazing people and soon learned I had been suffering from ‘Compassion Fatigue.’
Compassion Fatigue is the deep physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion that can result from working day to day in an intense care-giving environment
– Figley & Roop, Compassion fatigue in the animal-care community, 2006
Also, I am grateful that, as a volunteer, I have access to workshops provided by the shelter. When they listed an afternoon learning about Compassion Fatigue, I made sure my name was on the list. Our host Dr. Stoewen, DVM, MSW, Ph.D is the “Care and Empathy Officer and Director of Veterinary Services” for Pets Plus Us , and is an expert on the topic.
I want to share this information with you so that you will recognize the signs. In yourself, or in others.
When people feel powerless, they become vulnerable. What makes us vulnerable? We’re human beings. It’s human nature.
Is it compassion fatigue or burnout? Burnout results from stress at work. People suffering from burnout can usually bounce back after having a weekend off from issues at work. If they are not able to switch off from the day to day frustrations, they may be left with a sense of low personal accomplishment and the minor stress that causes burnout can escalate, contributing in some cases to compassion fatigue.
Burnout may be caused by:
-problems with coworkers
-job loss (financial security)
Characteristics of burnout:
Emotional & Physical Exhaustion:
you may feel overloaded with pressure, tired and lacking energy.
Avoidance & Alienation:
as you become more frustrated with your job and the work environment, you may develop a cynical attitude feel that you are no longer able to trust your coworkers. During this time you may feel alienated or choose to distance yourself emotionally and physically from your work and coworkers.
Diminished Performance & Negative Attitude:
Daily tasks at work, and home, including caring for family members can be affected. People experiencing burnout find it difficult to concentrate, tend to be negative about duties, are less innovative and may be lethargic.
If you aren’t able to leave work behind at quitting time it might be time for a change of environment – or job, to prevent burnout from escalating!
It can become a vicious circle. The overlap of any of the following, in any combination, and in any amount can contribute to Compassion Fatigue.
Examples of Traumatic Stress:
-personal pain, trauma, or loss
-death of a loved one (including animal companions)
-major disease diagnosis
-dealing with someone else’s trauma, pain, and loss
Examples of Cumulative Stress:
-intense workplace demands and stress
-inability to achieve work-related goals
-boredom with routines
-intense family demands and stress
-personal health problems
(Mathieu, The Compassion Fatigue Workbook, 2011)
Depending on each person’s coping skills, and mental health, some people are more vulnerable to experiencing compassion fatigue. Depression can be a symptom of full-blown compassion fatigue.
Compassion Fatigue is the natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other – the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person (or animal)
– Figley, Treating Compassion fatigue, 2002
Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue may include:
-reduced sympathy and empathy for others
-Mood swings, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or gestures
-anger and irritability
-being easily startled
-lethargy, physical and emotional exhaustion
-memory loss, forgetfulness
-loss of efficiency and reliability
-unpredictable work habits and patterns
-becoming accident prone
-excessive time at work OR
-increased sick time and time away from work
-alcohol on the breath
-heavy ‘wastage’ of drugs
-customer and staff complaints about changing attitude or behavior
-increasing personal and professional isolation
-skepticism, cynicism, embitterment, and resentfulness
-avoiding certain animals, customers, & euthanasia (in the shelter and veterinary worlds)
-some people experience self-denial (soldier mentality)
Physical: headaches, gastrointestinal upsets, and chronic pain and fatigue
Mental: mood disorders (anxiety and depression), eating disorders, dissociative disorders, personality disorders, and addictions (smoking, alcohol, and gambling)
Professional Competence: poor interpersonal relationships and compromised (animal) care.
Organizational Welfare: spreads like a contagion to the detriment of the workplace climate and outcomes.
Vocation: premature job changes, and different career path.
(Mathieu, The Compassion Fatigue Workbook, 2011)
Compassion fatigue has driven both promising and seasoned professionals out of their professions entirely, permanently altering the direction of career paths
– Mitchener & Ogilvie, 2002
In my next post I will be outlining the Compassion Fatigue Process, how to manage it and turn our experiences into ‘Compassion Satisfaction.’