Close your eyes and envision yourself as a child. What did you hope about your future? What were your desires? What gave you joy as a child? What did you want to do with your life? I want you to keep these thoughts in your mind as you read this article.
Individuals in any sort of helping field are more prone to feelings of compassion fatigue also known as vicarious trauma, compassion stress, burnout, or secondary traumatic stress. This concept is when individuals feel emotional and/or physical distress in response to providing care to other people. When the work individuals are doing involves helping others who have been through or are going through traumatic experiences, it has the possibility to affect the emotional well-being of the person helping. Individuals who feel deeper have a higher risk of developing compassion fatigue. Therefore, people must be aware of the impact their work is having on them, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and socially.
I want you to now think back to the beginning of this article. Think of the hope you had as a child. When I was a child, I believed I could change the world. I believed I could make a difference and make people happier. Obviously as a child I was not aware of the difficulties of life, the injustices many people go through, or the fact life is not fair. If you are in the helping field, you encounter so many different tragedies and traumas which are going to affect your overall emotional well-being. When this happens, I want you to think back to yourself as a child. Hold onto the hope you had. Hold onto the joy you felt. Hold onto the care you had for others. Hold onto the idea that you can make others happier. And hold onto the reason why you chose the helping field.
People who enter a helping profession likely do so because they enjoy helping others and want to do their part in making the world a better place. Similarly, as when you were child, more than likely, there was excitement, joy, and curiosity as you began your career. I hope you still feel this excitement and joy, but for some of you I am sure you have feelings of stress, decreased energy, numbness, or maybe even bitterness. If you are dealing with any of those symptoms, you might have compassion fatigue. It is okay and very normal to have these feelings. You must know you are not alone in these feelings. The first thing you can do is to practice awareness. Compassion fatigue can begin to happen especially when individuals are not aware of how it is impacting them. Having this awareness is important, but the most important thing each person can do is to practice taking care of themselves.
Again, think back to yourself as a child. Your young self would want you to be taking care of you right? They would want the best for you. Even though you have the desire to help others, it is critical to take care of yourself first and foremost. I encourage you all to get creative in your thinking when it comes to self-care. Are you practicing healthy boundaries? Do you have a good work-life balance? Are you eating healthy? Do you have a relationship in your life that impacts you negatively? Is there something you need to let go of to take care of yourself better? Take time to reflect on these questions. Instead of being the selfless individual I’m sure you are, try to be selfmore (yes, I made that word up). Think of yourself more and not less. Practicing both awareness and self-care can help individuals when they are dealing with feelings of compassion fatigue. Ultimately, never forget you are not alone in whatever you are dealing with, and your feelings are 100% valid.
Katie Zimmerman, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Katie Zimmerman joined The Kim Foundation in June 2019. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa. During her time in college, she volunteered at many non-profit organizations and took multiple sociology classes which focused on mental health. Katie’s role at The Kim Foundation includes running the social media accounts, assisting in the Youth Advisory Council, and providing mental health awareness and education to the community through A Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.