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news News Thursday, March 26, 2020 Thursday, March 26, 2020 2:35 PM - Thursday, March 26, 2020 2:35 PM

How to prioritize self-care during times of stress

How to prioritize self-care during times of stress

In times of high stress, such as during a natural disaster or global pandemic, many can experience compassion fatigue – a state of chronic physical and mental distress and exhaustion marked by what people describe as a negative shift in their worldview and a preoccupation with the well-being of others.

While compassion fatigue can affect anyone, those most likely to experience the tolls of exhaustion and burnout are caregivers, including health care workers, parents and teachers.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted us all in unimaginable ways. It has touched everyone and every part of our work and home lives,” says Anita Becker, RN, BSN, chief nursing executive and director of patient care services at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Honolulu.

“Symptoms of compassion fatigue can look different for each person,” Anita explains. “Symptoms can range from reduced feelings of sympathy or empathy, to hypersensitivity or complete insensitivity to emotional situations.”

Other symptoms that could signal you are experiencing compassion fatigue include:

  • Dreading working for or taking care of another and feeling guilty as a result.
  • Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship.
  • Irritability, anger or anxiety.
  • Depersonalization.
  • Headaches.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Weight loss.
  • Impaired decision-making.
  • Problems in personal relationships.
  • Poor work-life balance.
  • Diminished sense of career fulfillment.

What you can do to combat compassion fatigue

Extended work hours, limited resources, uncertainty of when things will return to normal; these are all things you cannot control, and focusing on them can increase already high levels of stress and anxiety.

Instead, focus on the present and what you can do, such as the following:

  • Prioritize self-care.
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day and are getting enough healthy foods.
  • Move your body each day.
  • Practice mindfulness, breath work and other meditation exercises.
  • Connect with others.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back.
  • Rest so that your body can heal and recharge. Aim for between seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you can’t get to that number, a 20-minute nap during the day is shown to help give you an extra energy boost.
  • Maintain as much normalcy and routine as you can.
  • Set a time to unplug completely from all news. Use those hours to catch up with your spouse, play with your kids or practice other forms of self-care, such as reading a book, cooking, taking a bath, painting or putting together a puzzle.

When to seek help

If feelings of emotional distress or symptoms of burnout persist for more than two weeks, seek professional assistance.

Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Crisis Line of Hawaii, which is staffed by a team of trained and experienced professionals. Call 808-832-3100 (Oahu) or toll-free at 1-800-753-6879 (neighbor islands).

You also can connect with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741 from anywhere in the United States.

In the event of a crisis, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department for immediate assistance.

“Now, more than ever, we must look to each other and within ourselves as we navigate unchartered waters,” says Anita. “I would encourage everyone to take this time to reconnect with family, to practice self-care, and to monitor for symptoms of compassion fatigue.”

More resources are available online at the following links: