941-462-4807 meg@megyounglcsw.com

compassion fatigue A professor I had in my graduate program said to the class one day “You know what MSW stands for, right? Must Save World.” Whereas we all thought this was pretty funny, there is a subtle truth to it. We come to do our passion because we want to help others who are struggling. This may be because we’ve come through adversity ourselves, or it may be that we come from a family of helpers, or it may be for a completely different reason. But none of us come to this field in order to get jaded and burnt out.
When we live our lives with the motto of Must Save World, we set ourselves up for burnout. It affects our lives in numerous ways. We feel it emotionally and physically. It affects many aspects of our lives including sleep, nutrition, and relationships. It makes us look at the world differently and even start to question why we are in this profession to begin with.
One of the biggest downsides to this is the world needs you as a counselor. You came to this field for a reason and that reason did and will make a huge impact on others. But if you get burnt out, you start making mistakes, disliking what you do, not caring as much, not having patience for your clients (or others in your life). You have a passion which drives you. When you get burnt out, this fire goes out and we have one more burnt out therapist in the world.
It is not fair to your clients, your friends, your family, and most importantly, you that this happens. You start exhibiting signs of compassion fatigue and burn out such as apathy, sarcasm, distrust, taking more sick days, and just going through the motions of your job.
Do you remember when you started a new job? Maybe you were a bit apprehensive, but you were also excited. You probably said yes to more things than you should have because you had the energy, passion, and excitement. You wanted to do a good job and knew that you could do a lot. You might have even been warned not to take on too much as people will then keep asking you to do more and more. But you could do it. You were early in your career (or current position), and had the passion and spark.
Isn’t hindsight funny? All those warnings people gave you were true. If you take too big a bite from doing the work of a therapist, you get full quickly and lose the spunk and excitement of the job. It looses the luster. It isn’t as enjoyable anymore. Maybe you didn’t notice it right away. Maybe it started as you just feeling more tired. Or maybe you didn’t eat as well. Or maybe you didn’t feel like hanging out with the crew after work. At first it seemed like nothing. But it was just the beginning of the slope. Once you start sliding, it is hard to find the footholes to grab onto. Before you know it, you don’t enjoy your work and question whether this is the right field for you.
Unfortunately, if we do not grab ahold of a foothole or two on the way down, we lose another therapist to burnout. Research indicates that healthcare professionals are at a higher risk for suicide. (See this article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3124780/).
If you find yourself in a dark place feeling burnt out, aggravated, unsure of yourself or your career choice, know that you are not alone. Many therapists face burnout every day. You are among many who are in the same boat as you. It is not a failure on you that this happened.
It’s true that you’re feeling tired and apathetic about much right now. However, if we can learn a step-by-step process to curb burnout before it starts (or find the foothole if it already started), we can maintain the passion we had when we first came into this field. When we make small steps using this how-to process, it is entirely possible to bring that spark back to a full fledged fire.
Keep reading to learn how to bring that fire back starting today
This is no way to live your dream. You came to this field for a reason. You had such enthusiasm at first. Helping others is taking a toll on you and not only you, but your family and your life. We know that chronic stress leads to all sorts of medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, strokes, and more. Burnout is a chronic stress condition as well.
Living like this will only increase your medical bills and costs, decrease your life expectancy, and generally will not have you feeling good about yourself. It is not what you want for yourself and not what I want for you.
Do you remember when you were a child and managed to just barely get out of bed in time for school, but Saturday and Sunday you could get up at the crack of dawn (if you wanted)? There was something exciting about the weekends. Something to look forward to that gave you the energy to get up and go.
When you have a passion in life, that oomph you had as a child on Saturday morning is there in that passion. It gives you that drive and fire. With that fire, so much is possible in each and every day. You can experience life in full bloom.
There will always be difficult days. There will always be days you come home stressed, cranky and tired, but you do not have to live that way daily. There is a way to bring that oomph back to your daily passion. When we choose to implement an easy step-by-step plan to bring back our passion, it is possible to feel excited about life again. You have the opportunity to shine and bring others up from their despair.
Currently you are feeling pretty hopeless about your career. You see everything more negatively than you did previously. It just isn’t quite the same for you. Not only do you feel this way, but it is impacting your life, your sleep, your relationships. It is seeping into every aspect of life.
The key is simple. The key to bringing back your passion. To feeling excited about your job again. I say simple for a reason. I purposely did not say easy. However, before you give up on me, there’s a lot in life that isn’t easy because it is different. It takes some practice before it becomes easy. This step-by-step guide is similar. It will take some time to master, but it is a simple process.
Take a look at these next steps to see how you can achieve energy and passion in work again
The solution
One of the reasons you struggle with burnout, irritability, and bringing stress home is because you care about what you do. It makes sense that you’re feeling worn out. Your brain takes in the input from all of your clients daily and as the amygdala is so primitive, it does not realize the difference between your client’s stories and your own stories. The amygdala along with your imagination make your clients stories your own, just as if you are going through the stress that they are. When this happens, all of the physiological effects of stress happen in our own bodies. This is physically and emotionally draining. This may not be the only reason you may be suffering from compassion fatigue and burnout, however.
Step one to identifying and treating your stress:
Identify the root cause: Ask yourself “Why am I feeling burnt out?” Do I have any resentments? Negative feelings about work or my role? Am I overwhelmed with the amount of work? Not feeling appreciated? Etc. Then ask yourself “Why” four more times. This form of deductive reasoning can uncover the root cause – which may not be what you originally thought.
Here with Meg Young, LCSW, we work together to identify what the root cause is. It is just like everything else…if you only “cover up” the problem by looking at what it seems like on the surface, often the problem will return. It is not solved. Identifying the root cause will actually help solve the problem and not just temporarily make it better.
Step two:
Ask yourself: Am I taking care of myself…balancing work and leisure: Am I sleeping well? Am I eating properly? Am I exercising regularly? When was my last vacation? Am I taking time to unplug from electronics and other people?
We know just how much imbalance in our lives will create a ripple effect of imbalance throughout all parts of our lives. Returning to this basic step is very important.
Together with my clients, I use a balance wheel to identify the important parts of their lives. From there we identify which parts of their lives are not doing as well and help to create a plan (using the five why’s from step one if there are barriers) to increase time spent in the other important areas of life. Nobody’s balance wheel is completely balanced. We just do the best we can. It’s like surfing…stay loose and go with the waves. Staying rigid will only make you fall off the board.
When you identify which areas of your life are lacking and make a plan to improve those areas, it is important to understand that other areas of life will go down a bit. That is normal and ok. It is balance – one side goes up and another comes down. It’s a matter of finding the right balance of all the important aspects of your life. Once you start your plan to improve the areas of your life that aren’t going so well, you will very quickly start to see some improvement in your mood and energy.
Step three:
Practice positive thinking. You know this works. You teach your clients every day. One method of positive thinking is the PERMA model for happiness:
P (Positive emotion): Are you experiencing positive emotions in your life, work, family, etc? If not, how can you increase positive emotions?
E (Engagement): Engagement produces a sense of natural flow. It just works when we’re engaged in something. Do you feel engaged at work? In your leisure time? With friends and family? How can you increase engagement in these areas? Decrease distraction? Find the fun in anything?
R (Positive relationships): Do you have positive relationships in your life? Home and work? If not, how can you increase them? Find new? Change your attitude? Etc
M (Meaning): Do you feel your life and work have meaning? It is serving a greater purpose?
A (Accomplishment/achievement): If you feel you are not devoting enough time to your dreams, start now! When we have a sense of accomplishment, we feel good about ourselves.
Other than the PERMA model, another way to use positive thinking is to challenge the belief you can’t create the job you want in your organization. Job descriptions are not what your reality is…ever. So, keep a list of what tasks motivate and deplete you. Find small motivating tweaks throughout the day. What can you do that will make the day fun? Almost a game to play? Can you collaborate for more motivating work? What task(s) can you and a co-worker switch to make both of your days better? This last one isn’t always an option, but if it can be, definitely use it!
Whereas saying no is not “positive thinking,” it is holding boundaries. Holding your boundaries will help you maintain a positive outlook. It is absolutely ok to say you cannot do something. It is also ok to ask if it can be done later. Prioritize your day and keep things as manageable as possible by declining things that you realistically cannot do.
You teach clients about positive thinking every day. You know that the more you feed the negative thoughts, the more those negative thoughts come to the surface. The opposite is also true…the more you feed the positive thoughts, the more those come to the surface.
Adding positive thinking to your life will make it possible to find the excitement in your job again. It will make it possible to re-ignite that fire and passion. It will make it possible to come back from compassion fatigue and burnout.
Step four:
Reassess your goals. If you notice that you created a better work/life balance and you are still quite stressed and unhappy, it is time to reassess your goals: Ask yourself, are my work goals matching my personal and professional goals? Does my work match my personal and professional values? If work and your personal or professional goals or values don’t match, it will cause significant internal stress.
With my clients, I help them reassess their personal and professional goals and help them identify their work and life values. Often we find that their personal and professional goals and values are at odds. If this is the case, the next step is to identify whether there is anything that my clients can do with their current job to realign personal and professional goals and values. Sometimes people can work with their supervisors or companies to help realign personal and professional goals and values, but frequently it is not the case. If it is not the case, it is important to ask yourself if staying at that job is right for you.
Reassessing your goals can be a bit challenging. If you find that your job is not the right job for you, there may be several reasons to still stay at that job. It is important to understand I do not tell anyone to quit their jobs. What I do is help you come to the conclusion that is right for YOU. Even if I believe that quitting may be the best solution, I will not tell you this. It is your decision to come to (or not). If you do not want to quit, steps one through three will at least decrease the stress level some. Even if you stay at a job that your values and goals do not match those of the company, doing steps one through three will improve your life.
You may be feeling overwhelmed and unsure about continuing your job at this time. Meg Young, LCSW empowers and inspires counselors just like you regain and maintain their passion for the career they came to.
Helping you achieve happiness and passion for the job you once loved is my passion. Achieving your goals and feeling that excitement for work, coming home less stressed and more energized throughout the day will help you to feel fulfilled again. You absolutely can come back from compassion fatigue and burnout. It does not necessarily mean you have to quit your job. Call me to schedule your appointment today. I will help you regain your passion. You are worth it, your family is worth it, and this will happen for you!