Turning Burnout & Compassion Fatigue into a good thing! Tips for managing stress.
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Reaction to an article written by Gray Robinson
Written for Attorney At Work
My Own Burnout/Compassion Fatigue
After reading this article I began to think about my own experience in my prior role as an Attorney representing children in child abuse, neglect, and high conflict custody cases. I was happy advocating for children in this role for almost 20 years – until the day I wasn’t. It didn’t happen overnight, though it may have felt that way at the time, but when it happens – it’s paralyzing.
Finding my way back to a place of Empathy
Once I realized how truly unhappy I was, I decided that I would discover a new way to utilize my skills and my desire to help children and families. I talked about this journey in my first blog. I was very lucky – a lot of people helped me, and guided me to a new and satisfying career in mediation, parent coordination, divorce coaching – all alternatives to Court – all non-adversarial, less conflictual ways to restructure families. I was able to move beyond burnout and compassion fatigue to engagement and working from a place of empathy.
For any who are wondering how – I utilized many of the suggestions in Gray Robinson’s article.
Understand the symptoms of compassion fatigue are natural and can be managed. I had heard about and been to dozens of trainings and workshops on compassion fatigue and never truly understood it until I experienced it. But when I did – I knew it was an unfortunate but normal occurrence for professionals in my field – so I could identify it, understand it, and deal with it.
Talk to someone. I leaned on my family and my friends. I am lucky to be surrounded by like-minded professionals who understood, and who were, and are supportive. I am part of a Secondary Trauma Group at FamilyKind where I have found a wonderful group of dedicated colleagues who understand the challenges and who can empathize with my struggles. We all support each other so we can continue to do the work that is as challenging as it is rewarding.
Take more and longer vacations. This is a tricky one as my timing lined up with lockdown. I would not have wished the pandemic on anyone, but it gave me a chance to catch my breath, to pause any outside responsibilities and to nest at home with my family.
Establish healthy routines, including sleep. Once again, the horrors of the pandemic ended up creating an environment for me where I could incorporate better sleep, better nutrition, and healthy routines. And once I had established them, and realized how much I had been missing, I was able to plan to incorporate them going forward, regardless of the world events.
Develop interests outside of your career. While I would love to report that I am a gourmet cook, or took up knitting or something intellectual, but my husband and I have been enjoying binge watching a wide variety of series!
Assess your practice area and adjust if necessary. This is the major way my life has changed – I no longer litigate and have focused my whole practice on keeping families out of court.
Find experiences that give you joy and practice them daily. I love working from home, and have created my own space with photos and wall hangings that bring me joy and enable me to focus on my work from a place of calm and productivity.
Belly laugh. Well – I have to say this one’s bit harder as I spend much of the day by myself, but I never miss an opportunity to laugh at anything – on line, on tv or when one of my kids or my dog is being hilarious.
Connect with people you love. This is one of the best things that COVID has taught me. You don’t have to be near people to connect.
For any of you who are stressed, suffering from burnout or compassion fatigue, know you are not alone – there is a name for this, a “treatment” plan, and an escape. Identifying you are not where you want to be is the first, and most important, step.