Every once in a while we struggle with keeping on top of the blog largely because we’re working nonstop (or so it seems). In fact, every once in a while, everything just seems to become ‘too much’. People that work in emergency services know very well that stuff just happens in waves. That means you get hit with a bunch of things all at once, scramble to ride the wave without wiping out and rest at the bottom before it all comes at you again. Only this wave seems to be a particularly long one. Burn out, compassion fatigue, vicarious or secondary trauma are very real possibilities and while we have no influence or control about when or how long or what types of waves come crashing through, we do have control over how we take care of ourselves to ensure we’re able to be the best ‘helpers’ we can be.
Any one of us are susceptible to burn out or compassion fatigue or related trauma. You don’t have to work in an emergency service to get there, you just have to be really stressed and overwhelmed. Emergency services by their very nature deal with stress, grief and trauma as part of the job so the opportunities to become unhealthy are high. Still, regardless of what you do or where you are at in life, there are things that can push you towards being not well or help you hang on in a reasonably healthy way so that you’re ready for the next wave.
Factors that may make you susceptible to burn out or compassion fatigue are present in most of us. The more of these factors you possess, chances are the higher your probability of experiencing some difficulties.
As I’ve already mentioned, if you work with or are supporting someone who has or is experiencing a traumatic event, give yourself a check mark.
If you feel like the weight of the work you do and the direct success or failure of those around you rests on your shoulders;
If you’re highly empathetic to others and are motivated and responsive to other’s needs.
If you have unresolved stress, or unresolved trauma;
If you have a lot of stressful things going on in your life around you other than work (relationships, money, children, immediate family demands or issues, housing, health and so on);
If you have difficulties setting boundaries for yourself whether that be in your professional role or in your personal life;
If you are isolated from others;
If you don’t feel properly trained to do your job and that you lack some important internal resources, education or specialized training;
When the stress builds up and our ability to deal with it in a healthy manner decreases, our functioning and effectiveness decreases. We often start a slow dance where our functioning continues to drop off in little pieces at a time, so much so that it’s very difficult to see if happening until things are really not well. We might become super high functioning, doing everything all the time to try to stay on top of things but before long, if we’re not careful, we can become disillusioned, start avoiding others, withdrawing from people and activities, and may even progress to symptoms similar to depression, anxiety and a sense of hopelessness.
But, there are things all of us can do to help minimize the risk and they are largely about paying attention to how well you take care of yourself. All the old standby’s apply such as a healthy diet, enough sleep, proper exercise. Not exciting but important. Other less obvious things can also contribute and these include;
- having or developing a sense of humour
- being or becoming or staying connected with others personally, professionally, spiritually
- ongoing education and training opportunities
- positive support network that is available as you need them
- positive coping strategies and healthy defense mechanisms for dealing with trauma
- allowing yourself to grieve losses and setbacks in order to be free to move forward
- take time for recreational and leisure activities that have nothing to do with work
- a willingness to problem solve when faced with challenges
- learn how to set boundaries and do it
For more information, please visit; Crisis & Trauma Research Institute