World Kindness Day is celebrated annually on 13th November, where participants attempt to make the world a better place by celebrating and promoting good deeds and pledging acts of kindness, either as individuals or as organisations.
Today we’d like to focus on how we can be kind to ourselves, and how we can be kind to our colleagues and friends working in the childcare industry.
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused additional stress for many, and has a marked impact on our mental health, to the extent that some of our child and healthcare industry colleagues are experiencing symptoms of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue describes a condition whereby a person experiences emotional and physical exhaustion, making it difficult to empathise or feel compassion for others. This is sometimes described as ‘the negative cost of caring’ or ‘secondary traumatic stress’. It’s often experienced by those working with victims of trauma, disaster or illness, such as in the healthcare industry, as a result of exposure to chronic stress and burnout. Anyone working in any ‘helping’ professions are at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue.
“Professionals regularly exposed to the traumatic experiences of the people they service, such as healthcare, emergency and community service workers, are particularly susceptible to developing CF.” (Cocker & Joss, 2016)
Compassion fatigue can cause symptoms of depression, irritability, feelings of helplessness or low mood, needing to take time off work, physical aches and pains, and difficulty with concentration. Does this sound familiar?
During times of intense stress and uncertainty, the opportunity to experience this kind of burnout increases. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have noticed an increase in our colleagues, students and graduates experiencing burnout and feelings of compassion fatigue, describing an inability to find the energy or motivation to support families, and find time enough time for meaningful self-care. When we support others in our work, our voluntary roles and at home, it can feel impossible to find time to fill our own cups, but there is a reason that the safety information on aeroplanes says to put your own oxygen mask on first! You can’t help anyone else if you’re not safe to do so.
So how can you support yourself when you experience compassion fatigue?
Self-care is essential and it doesn’t have to be self-indulgent. It doesn’t have to be a long weekend having a luxury spa minibreak or buying the latest home gadgets or pampering cosmetics (although there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, they are often unattainable or unrealistic for people who have busy, hectic lives). We can fit lots of self-care in around our hectic schedules without having to carve out consecutive hours of relaxation or activity. For example:
- Stretching – first thing in the morning
- Eating a nutritious and delicious snack or meal
- Enforcing your boundaries (learning to say no when you’re already overstretched is a major one!)
- Breathing exercises (just four minutes of deep breathing can
- Having a walk outside in nature or just popping outside for ten minutes
- Creating small, achievable goals
- Being creative (I love my adult colouring book full of swear words!)
- Tidying your space
- Taking regular breaks from work
- Put on your favourite music and dance
- Have a bubble bath
- Get plenty of sleep
- Have less screen time
You may have friends or family who are experiencing compassion fatigue, and there are ways you can support them if you’re able to. For example:
- Picking up groceries
- Send them a care package
- Batch cooking meals to freeze and delivering them
- Calling or sending a message to check in
- Help run errands
- Reminisce over special memories
- Encourage them to practice their hobbies
- Help them seek additional support if they need it
Remember that you don’t need to be perfect, you just need to be present. And of course, it can be really challenging to support a friend or co-worker if you’re struggling to support yourself through burnout. Sometimes just checking in and telling them how much you care about them and sending good wishes can be enough.
How we can collectively support people who experience compassion fatigue?
Sometimes it’s too big a burden for us as individuals to take care of each other one on one, especially when we may have additional challenges in our lives at difficult times. So how can we support each other?
One of the main things we promote at Babyem is building community. When we can rely on the support of a collective we take energy from different sources and are able to more easily share our own energy with others. When we have a network of friends, mentors and colleagues to support us with our work and encourage us through difficult times, it can have such an enormous impact on our ability to carry on. And it’s not just about what we receive from others, but how we can contribute to this support network. Helping others is something we are all passionate about – after all, that’s the industry we chose – right?
Your knowledge, experience, and expertise might be able to help someone with a task that is overwhelming, or causing stress and anxiety for them whilst they try to run their business. For most of our courses, we have private Facebook community groups, and in there we see our trainees and graduates asking one another for help with specific issues, for ideas on how to deal with challenging clients, and cheering each other on. Even if people don’t know the answer, someone listening and providing a kind word of encouragement can make a big difference to our wellbeing! Our Babyem staff are also on hand to provide support if you’re struggling with your assignments or course content or are having personal issues that affect your learning.
When we build bridges instead of walls, our community can grow. When our community grows, our self-esteem increases, which helps us to feel confident in our ability to progress, and helps give us energy to support others. Humans thrive on connection and social interaction, and when we are part of a collective, a community, somewhere we belong, we all become more resilient. This is quite literally a survival trait! We have evolved to co-operate and depend on one another, and yet in these difficult times of lockdowns, working from home, increased financial pressures, and reduced access to services it can sometimes feel like we have lost our tribe.
It’s really important to know that there is support available for you if you are struggling with your mental health. You are not alone! We have included a list of resources below for anyone who needs some support.
- Call: 116 123
- Available 24 hours
- Call: 0800 58 58 58
- Available 5pm-midnight 365 days of the year
- National helpline for men to talk about any troubles they are feeling
- Call: 0300 5000 927
- Available Monday to Friday, 10am-2pm for practical advice