Managing burnout and compassion fatigue this holiday season

For many of us, the holiday season can feel like there are more things on our to-do list than we have time for. Also, as an employee in public service, you may be more susceptible to compassion fatigue than the general population.

A webinar during the 2021 State Employee Wellness Fair featured two attorneys, Erica Grigg and Kristen Huff. Having experienced extreme levels of burnout and compassion fatigue themselves, both shared their personal stories, along with recommendations for recognizing and managing burnout.

Here are a few key takeaways, definitions and strategies I want to share.

  • Burnout is defined as exhaustion of emotional and/or physical strength as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.
  • Symptoms of burnout include feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, drained, demoralized or ineffective.
  • Compassion fatigue is burnout combined with physical, emotional and psychological effects resulting from exposure to others’ traumatic experiences, known as “secondary traumatic stress.”

There are strategies to increase resilience and more effectively handle the stress and trauma.

  • Connect with others. Connection is one of the best ways to build resilience and combat burnout and compassion fatigue. Kristen and Erica described burnout as a disease of disengagement. Isolation can lead to loneliness and depression. Talk about your experiences and feelings with someone you trust. (And remember, your HealthSelect plan covers mental health counseling. Mental health virtual visits scheduled with Doctor On Demand® or MDLIVE® have $0 copay for HealthSelect of Texas participants.)
  • Say no to unnecessary tasks, media, news and social media that create more stress in your life. It is a choice.
  • Cultivate your creativity and spirituality. Find a hobby that uses different parts of your brain. A great analogy from the webinar is a weight lifter who only lifts upper-body weights and never works out the legs, resulting in a huge chest and tiny, spindly legs. If you only work one part of the brain, the others will weaken and age faster.
  • Laugh! Laughter is medicine for the body. Think of things that you enjoy. Watch a comedy show. Tell jokes. Let go a little.
  • Practice gratitude and meditation. Start a gratitude journal and make writing in it a daily habit. Focus on specific events, people, pets or moments you are grateful for each day and why. Share your gratitude with others. Developing an attitude of gratitude has countless benefits for physical and mental health.

Making time for these self-care practices can help you prevent and alleviate burnout. Listen to the “Prioritize YOU … you are worth it” webinar for more ways to become happier and healthier in the new year.

Article by Lacy Wolff, Health Promotion Administrator for the Texas Employees Group Benefits Program (GBP).

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