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Compassion Fatigue

Why Self-Care is Important

In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal, author and integrative medicine professor, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, explores the concept of compassion fatigue frequently experienced by those in a caregiving role or profession. Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatization, is the exhaustion our minds, hearts, bodies and spirits experience as a result of repeated exposure to suffering and distress in humans or animals.

Studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimate that between 7 and 40 percent of people in helping professions experience compassion fatigue. Remen writes, “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

For two and a half years, Lorinda Kirk has been juggling the demands of her job as a reading specialist in a Philadelphia inner city school with helping to care for her partner’s mother. “I became irritable and impatient and started to doubt whether I was really a compassionate person,” Kirk reflects. “Our relationship as a couple grew tense. I was exhausted.” Other commonly cited symptoms of compassion fatigue include weakened immune system, emotional withdrawal, headaches, digestive issues and difficulty concentrating.

Despite the significant impact compassion fatigue can have on overall health, its effects can be significantly mitigated through a mindfulness practice, consistent self-care and compassion for one’s own suffering. As clinical psychologist and writer Christopher Germer explains, “Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to another.” Learning to say no and delegate tasks are additional, key components of self-care, according to Dr. Charles Figley, renowned trauma expert and pioneer in the field of compassion fatigue. Figley also highlights the importance of connecting with others who can listen and validate our experiences, prioritizing time for silence and stillness and replenishing our bodies with sleep, water and healthful foods.

Two months ago, Kirk and her partner welcomed twin boys into the world. The new additions have helped Kirk become balanced and set kinder, more realistic expectations of herself. “I’ve realized that I’m not the only person who can help. Sometimes I need to step away and care for me.”

Lauren Sophia Kreider is a grief counselor, writer and creator of mindfulness tools for children. She resides in Lancaster City with her husband and 5-year-old son. She can be reached at KreiderLauren@gmail.com or at Facebook.com/SophiaMindfulness.

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