I learned the phrase “compassion fatigue” from an article on Cracked. The writer wrote:
Eventually, all the empathy and idealism that got you into this career washes out, leaving you a spiteful shadow of your former self. It hit me hard a few years ago. I was in court with somebody, a totally devastating day in their life — that client lost their kids, I think, I still can’t really recall because that’s how often I see parents lose their kids. Anyway, I remember that all I could think about was how badly I wanted a soda.
The American Institute of Stress defines Compassion Fatigues as the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burnout, but can co-exist.
Yo, get out of my head. Unsuccessfully I tried the “fake it to you feel it” routine, hoping the energy I needed would kick in.
My days became a Möbius loop: listening halfheartedly to different residents talk about how hard it is in America; eyes not so covertly glancing at the clock and counting down seven minutes; ending the rambling with a fake platitude. Afterwards I would tell my sister how guilty I felt; however, the next day I found myself back in the same place.
A coworker told me that I’m too cheerful to have compassion fatigue. Everything I described sounded like burnout and I needed a break badly.
Cue the Build Your Influence Summit. I traveled to Valley Forge and sat in a room of other bloggers learning how to better my blog. Joyce Shulman of Macaroni Kid Inc was one of many dynamic speakers that gave presentations. Joyce talked about burnout and I knew immediately she was speaking to me.
Joyce started out by breaking down burnout. As a (sometimes) high achiever, I want and strive to do more and more, but the risk of doing more is burnout. Burnout is characterized by exhaustion (check), feelings of ineffectiveness (check), lack of enthusiasm and motivation (check), feelings of frustration or cynicism (check and check) and will cut efficacy in the office (checkmate).
According to Joyce, there are ten ways to combat burnout.
- Take a break. I’m known to eat lunch at my desk or skip it because I just don’t have time to squeeze it in. No more. I leave the office and take my lunch break.
- Get help. I was reaching my pressure point back in May, but it was kept at bay when my summer student came to work. She was able to step in when my most challenging people came in and she taught a few Civics classes. I miss her.
- Take a hike. Science has proven that “nature does good things to the human brain. It makes us healthier, happier, and smarter“.
- Work harder. By now you’re thinking “really?” Me too. Working harder doesn’t mean staring at a blank keyboard or paper for the rest of the day. Working harder means setting a limit of two hours to crank out a few things. It may be craptastic but you did SOMETHING. For me, it’s a matter of updating some applications or outlining the next few weeks ESL lessons.
- Do something for someone else. I believe in the power of volunteering. When you are helping someone else, this helps you refocus your energy outward.
- Find your fuel. What motivates you? A paycheck for starters; however, I can honestly say I would do this type of work even if I wasn’t receiving a check every two weeks.
- Go to bed. Joyce paused here and gave me my new catch phrase: Bitches don’t sleep. She is so correct. The house could be crumbling around us, The Mister will yawn, turn twice, and snore away until the cats come in meowing the next day. I’m up folding laundry, washing dishes, catching up on social media, watching TV, reading a book, the list goes on! Go to bed. That stuff can wait. For real.
- Edit your to do list relentlessly. Making to do lists are one ways I relax. For me it’s a brain dump in a listicle. A to do list is a living document so treat it accordingly. Also delegate some of the things. The Boy is in charge of making dinner on Thursdays and I let The Mister handle Miss Daisy Duties.
- Is it Mork (Trademark Joyce) More Work? Before taking a new challenge or project ask yourself: Is this something I really want or is it mork? There are only 24 hours in a day, be protective of your time. No is a complete sentence.
- Laugh. I mean a belly clutching, tears running “stop I gotta pee!”guffaw.
Other ways I have used to beat burnout:
Music. I have a totally rad 80’s playlist (see what I did?!) that I dance my heart out to.
Affirmations: Repeating “You matter and what you have to offer matters” can make a huge difference.
Yoga: There’s a Gaiam channel with a ton of Rodney Yee practices. He was in the tapes (that’s how long it’s been) I used to use daily. Returning to these routines are soothing.
Disconnect. One beautiful Saturday I fell into a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram rabbit hole at 2PM. When I emerged it was 7 and then I got lost in an Iyanla Fix My Life marathon. My day was done. Making a conscious effort to not check email, pop into Facebook real quick, or peruse trending topics worldwide is challenging. However, it can be done.
What are some ways YOU would beat burnout? Leave a comment or tweet me. Let’s keep the conversation going.
This post is made possible by catching burnout early and getting some sleep. I have a partnership with the Verizon #FiOSPhilly team. All views expressed are my own.