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  • Writer's pictureTraci Wilkerson Steckel

Mental Health Awareness Month: Compassion Fatigue

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and something vital in our line of work in nonprofit is taking care of ourselves in order to care for others. We work hard to help others physically, and mentally. When we are not actually working, our minds are, they are full of worry for those we are caring for and all of this combined can surely take a toll.

One of the major issues we as caregiving people in the nonprofit sector is Compassion Fatigue. I know first hand as I have experienced this twice in my life. The first time was before Traci's Paws. I was the actual caregiver for my maternal grandmother when I was in my early 20's while working full-time as an elementary school teacher.

The other time just before the pandemic hit.

While I was forced to take time off during the quarantine and find new ways to keep Traci's Paws alive in a new world without events, I also took time off to allow my mind & body to rest. Unfortunately, my health was at its worst in my life due to stress; I needed to give myself permission to take some time off and let my body heal and rest to continue doing the caregiving work that comes with Traci's Paws. What is that exactly? Well, we care for our community of pet owners in need, our military and veterans during the holidays, and animal centers & shelters, and rescue organizations in need.

For me, it was very stressful knowing there was much work to be done but that we couldn't physically do it. But once I allowed myself to understand that my best was literally the best that I could physically do, it made my mental state of being "pulled thin" and made the state we were in much easier to navigate. It also made me feel more understanding of the breadth of my own work, of those who run nonprofits for people and animals, and anyone in the rescue community and healthcare profession.

Compassion Fatigue is a major cause for caregivers in any industry to suffer from depression, anxiety and can even lead to suicide. Sadly, we see this way too often in the veterinary industry.

Some symptoms you may be experiencing can be anything from feeling like you aren't good enough or not doing a good enough job, to physical symptoms of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, sudden changes in your weight. and migraines. Oh boy, van I relate to the migraines! Remember, these are just a few (and what I've compiled from research). If you feel like you may be suffering from Compassion Fatigue, please speak with a professional.

If you are concerned about developing Compassion Fatigue, you can take a few steps to prevent it or understand when you are experiencing it a little better.

Take a break. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try to take a step away from your work and reorganize yourself. Sometimes you are unable to, but try to seek a professional if this is the case.

Ask for help. If you can ask someone to step in and take some of the workload for you, do so. Utilize your volunteers!

Traci's Paws spokesdog Emee the Chi and Traci's Paws Founder Traci Wilkerson Steckel floating in the pool.
Emee the Chi and Founder Traci taking a short break between work.

Consistent rewards. Try to take a walk after each hard day to reflect, relax, and renew or maybe practice some yoga if it makes you feel good. Take a nice holiday—every quarter ​or at the end of the year. Giving you something to look forward to that is therapeutic to you can help you stay grounded and get through.

And if you know anyone who may be experiencing compassion Fatigue or in a line of work where it is prevalent, please reach out. Ask how you can help. Whether that is volunteering to alleviate some of the workload or maybe invite them out for a cup of coffee to give them a break and revamp before heading back into it.

This blog compiled some casual research and ideas of our founder and is not considered professional advice. If you are suffering from Compassion Fatigue or any mental illness, please contact your doctor or a healthcare professional as soon as possible, and always know you can call 911 if you are a danger to yourself or someone else.

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