Compassion fatigue, sometimes known as secondary traumatic stress, is a unique form of burnout that can affect personal support workers (PSWs) and others who work in a caregiving capacity, such as doctors, nurses, or paramedics. These professionals are in regular contact with individuals experiencing traumatic pain or injuries, and in the course of providing practical support, they also provide compassion and empathy, invaluable forms of emotional support. This can be incredibly rewarding for caregivers, who get the satisfaction of making tangible improvements to the lives of those in need, but over time, it can also become draining or desensitizing, making caregivers feel hopeless, numb, or distant to the pain of others.
Other signs of compassion fatigue can include emotional and psychological symptoms like mood swings, irritability, and anxiety, as well as physical symptoms like muscle tension or sleeplessness. Whatever form it takes, compassion fatigue is an understandable reaction for anyone helping to manage the pain of others on a daily basis, but it doesn’t have to be the natural result.
If you’re studying to become a PSW, here are some strategies and techniques you can use to help avoid compassion fatigue once you’ve begun your career as a caregiver.
When You Become a PSW, It’s Important to Practice Self-Care
It’s not unusual for those suffering from compassion fatigue to use unhealthy short-term fixes to alleviate their anxiety or hopelessness. These might include drinking alcohol, eating junk food, or watching TV. While these may briefly quell the symptoms of compassion fatigue, they won’t help in the long-run, and may actually make things worse.
After completing your PSW courses, it’s important to develop healthy habits to keep your mind calm and your emotional reserves full. Regular exercise can be an excellent way of managing anxiety, so you might consider building daily jogs or runs into your routine. Other activities that can help include journaling, taking up new hobbies outside of work, meditating, and doing yoga or tai chi. Whatever works for your schedule and your preferences, just make sure to prioritize your emotional well-being and set time aside to engage in those activities that leave you feeling less drained.
Lean on Your Social Network and Talk to Other Caregivers
When dealing with stress it can sometimes be tempting to shirk social obligations and isolate yourself, but it’s important not to, because social support is an essential tool for combating stress and anxiety, including compassion fatigue. When you become a PSW, you should make sure to communicate your feelings with friends and family rather than keeping them bottled up. It can also be valuable to discuss your concerns with other PSWs and caregivers, who will have a valuable shared understanding of the emotional challenges of the profession.
Maintain Your Emotional and Professional Boundaries
It’s essential for PSWs and other caregivers to take an empathetic and compassionate approach in their work. In order to prevent compassion fatigue, however, it’s also essential not to become overly involved, or to allow a client’s pain to become your own. This is why PSWs need to set clear emotional and professional boundaries in their work and stick to them firmly.
By maintaining these boundaries in your career as a PSW, you can ensure that you have the emotional reserves necessary to fulfill your professional obligations and provide the best care possible to your clients, without draining yourself in the process.
Are you interested in pursuing a career as a Personal Support Worker?
Contact Anderson College for more information about personal support worker courses.