No More Touchy-Feely Compassion Fatigue Remedies

Updated: Feb 15

I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed out, the last thing I want is for someone to ask me if I am taking care of myself.

It’s like when someone asks you if you're grouchy. Even if you weren't grouchy before, you begin to wonder if you are, actually, grouchy. And of course you respond defensively. Either you aren’t grouchy or you don’t want anyone else to see that you are. But what about self care?

Let’s pretend you are the perfect picture of self care. You eat healthy food, exercise regularly, have a balanced personal life, always make it to your monthly therapy appointment, and even sneak in a weekly bubble bath. The truth is, these things will help, but they don’t address the entire picture of self care when you are dealing with the life and death of your fellow human beings. There is an element of working in healthcare that is not present in a “regular” job. Many people experience job stress from bad management, overworking, low wages, rude customers, and a plethora of other factors.

In healthcare, you are also dealing with grief and no amount of kale is going to fix it.

Grief is not just about death. There are many little losses each day. There is the patient who has no one to hold her hand as she heads into surgery. And the addicted patient who has become a shell of his former self. There is the patient who manages her chronic pain with a grimaced smile. And the man who loses a gangrenous leg to diabetes. I’m sure you’ve got your own list. It is also likely that you will only see the suffering and never the triumphant outcome. And if death does happen, you probably won’t get an invitation to participate in a celebration of life. So you hold onto the grief. You carry the stories of suffering with you through every compartmentalized minute of your day.

It’s time to let yourself feel.

Don't worry, this tip is actually anti-touchy-feely. Sh#% is about to get messy. When I think of self care, I imagine a fully relaxed woman with glowing skin just out of the sauna. She took a deep breath and relaxed before she ever shed a tear. Someone who is taking care of herself wouldn’t have a meltdown. Right?! Wrong. If you have never had a full body meltdown, I can almost guarantee you are holding onto toxic energy. It’s time for a release. I’m talking about a full-out, snot-nosed, belly-gulping meltdown. I’m talking about an unabashed scream, at the top of your lungs, as you drive down the highway. I’m talking about punching pillows. Let it out before it eats you alive.

Not just once, but as a regular practice.

You cannot really put this type of release into your schedule. It’s going to creep up on you and there is never a convenient time for it. Do your best to get yourself to a place where you can be uninhibited about your meltdown. If you’re doing all the other things that a perfectly executed self-care plan entails, you will probably have fewer meltdowns. If you’re like me and life sometimes takes over your well-intentioned plans, just know that your fully human self has a different outlet. Only you can know if you need a bubble bath or a blood-curdling scream, so the key here is to pay attention and take every opportunity you can to follow your own cues. And remember…you are not your meltdown.

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