Welcome to part four of my short series on mental resiliency and compassion fatigue. This will be the last installment in this series, but before we get started, let’s just do a quick recap of what’s been discussed so far. Please, if you have not read the first three parts, make sure you read them so you can keep up.
In part one we talked about what is compassion fatigue — secondary post traumatic stress disorder — is and who it affects; in part two we went over mental resiliency and the difference between people with a high level of resiliency and people with a low level of resiliency; and in part three we spent some more time talking about resiliency and I shared some exercises with you that you can do to make your mind more resilient.
In this part, we’re going to come back around full-circle to compassion fatigue and I’m going to give advice to those of you who are specifically working as a military healthcare professional or home care taker.
Right now, you might be feeling a little confused because we’ve covered a lot of material, and you may be trying to figure out how it all fits together. Allow me to break it down for you so it all makes sense: Dealing with compassion fatigue is all about finding balance — balance within yourself and around you. I want you to find a comfortable middle ground between being too sensitive and fragile, and completely robotic and uncaring. I’d like to again point out an irony that inherently lies within this subject: Being too compassionate and not resilient enough can cause you to lose your empathy for others — compassion fatigue — but making yourself too resilient can have the same effect. In other words, if you veer too far off in either direction, you’ll wind up in the same place, which is somewhere that’s not healthy to be.
Mindfulness meditation is the first step you can take towards balancing your mind and emotions. In part three I gave you a couple of mindfulness meditation exercises to get started with, including a breathing exercise, but there’s certainly a lot more you can do than just spending 20 minutes a day focusing on your breath. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced in many ways other than what you may think of as conventional meditation, and there are a lot of other things you can do for yourself that have nothing to do with meditating.
Get Lost in the Moment: Mindfulness meditation is really all about getting lost in the moment — only focusing on the “here and now.” That’s it. The point of the breathing exercise is to give you a “here and now” to focus on — something to occupy your attention so you can give your brain a break from the constant stream of chatter that goes on in all of our heads. However, you don’t have to sit on the floor and hum chants to get lost in the moment; you just have to get wrapped up in anything that commands your full attention. For example, playing or listening to music; reading and writing; playing chess or Scrabble; painting a picture or building a piece of furniture; any of these activities can get you lost in the moment, and they all happen to be good for your prefrontal cortex, too. The important thing is that you find a hobby or activity that you enjoy, and you spend some time doing it everyday.
Don’t Forget to Exercise Your Body: Exercising your mind is all very good and well, but don’t forget about your body! I know how busy you are as a nurse, physician, or home care giver; and you probably feel like you don’t have the time to exercise; but you really shouldn’t neglect this. You don’t have to take up a bodybuilding program, you just have to make sure you get at least some good exercise most days of the week. You can take up walking or jogging; you can stair climb at work; you can lift weights for a few minutes or do some pushups when you have the time; or you could take up a sport, like tennis or soccer, etc… As I’m sure you already know, physical exercise is just as important for your mind as it is for your body.
Laugh a Little… And a Lot!: When you’re physically and emotionally exhausted, and constantly thinking thoughts of bleakness and hopelessness, it’s easy to forget to laugh. In fact, laughing is probably the last thing you feel like doing, but you must laugh. It’s easy to want to ride out a mood or emotion, even if it’s a bad one. It’s something a lot of people tend to do. Have you ever caught yourself doing this? For example, maybe you’re feeling very sad or angry, and you should want to feel happier, but for some reason you just want to stew in your misery. Surprisingly, one of the best things you can do when you’re feeling down is just snap yourself out of it… but that’s not always so easy. I suggest finding a funny radio or TV show, or even a series of books or magazines that you can enjoy on a regular, daily basis. Finding something like a funny TV show you can watch at night before you go to bed will cause you to laugh even when you don’t feel like it.
This concludes my short series on compassion fatigue and mental resiliency. I think it’s obvious that all of these tips and tricks are basically drilling home the same message: don’t let your duties as a caregiver consume your entire life. You have to maintain balance. Maybe the person you are caring for is your spouse or child, which makes you feel like it’s impossible for it not to consume your whole life, because it is your life, but you must remember that you cannot be the best caregiver you can be if you do not also tend to your own physical and emotional needs.
Note: Specifically, with regards to medical issues, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Web site.
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