What happens when the provider, the caregiver, starts to burn out? Science reveals that we experience a change biochemically when we have taken on too much. Compassion fatigue creates a whole host of symptoms, including irritability, impatience, exhaustion, intolerance, dread, lack of clarity, poor motivation, a decline in personal well-being regarding sleep, health and mood, a transfer of stress to personal life, the internal eye roll, boredom, feeling of heaviness, forgetfulness, procrastination, avoidance, resentment, judgementalness and aversion.

Compassion fatigue results in a mind-body effect, which can activate a chronic low-grade sympathetic nervous system (SNS) resoponse, resulting in a number of problems such as poor digestive health, insomnia, low immunity, inflammation, serotonin imbalances, muscular tightness, respiratory tension, anxiety and depression.

When we are tired, we are more easily “triggered” in our work with others. We start to take things personally and make the client, or loved one, issue about us. We react, project, defend, judge, name call and transfer our frustrations with the idividual onto them, ourselves and others. Ov course, this is not helpful to clients, family members, business associates or ourselves.

Perhaps we who go into this work, or family members caring for loved ones, do so because we have a huge capcity for empathy. We can literally feel the pain others hold, so we want to help, because we care so deeply. As empaths, we are like sponges, we absorb.

Eventually, the sponge becomes saturated and we cannot hold anymore. We begin to not be able to tell the difference between what is our issue, and what is not ours. Our boundaries are blurred.

However there are ways to maintain balance through self-care. It’s important to remain mindful of our own triggers, geelings, body and breath. Balancing the nervous system/adrenals can be aided through exercies, which releases tension and increases the feel-good hormones. Relaxation practies like yoga and meditation can be beneficial. And, adopting a habit of letting go and leaving the work at work can help maintain personal joy. Keep pleasurable activities in your life. Involve friends, plan and have fun! FBN

Keelyn Riley Staff

By Keelyn Riley, LCSW, CYT, RYT

Keelyn Riley is a licensed clinical social worker who has been working with addiction since 1994. She is a primary therapist at Back2Basics, a long-term treatment program for addiction.

Back2Basics combines residential therapeutic counseling with experiential outdoor adventures to treat individuals with substance and alcohol addiction and lead them through rehab and recovery into long-term sober living for a positive meaningful life. The program (up to six months) is designed for young adult males, ages 18 to 30. Clients are exposed to a weekly combination of both wilderness adventures and residential programming. The program is highlighted by spending time in the beautiful, serene wilderness where individuals are physically challenged, their minds are cleared and they learn ways to defeat old addictive thinking patterns through various outdoor adventures.