Life balance: responding to the pull of work and family (Proceedings)


Charles Figley, PhD, who did the seminal research in the diagnosis and treatment of Compassion Fatigue, defined it in 1995 as: "A state of exhaustion and dysfunction (biologically, psychologically, and socially) as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress" (giving of yourself without a way of replenishing your energies and resources).

Balance to heal or prevent compassion fatigue

What is compassion fatigue and why should I care about preventing it?

Charles Figley, PhD, Psychologist studying burnout in helping professionals.

Life balance relevance in our lives

     • Small group discussion about personal experiences with stress and activity overload

     • Feedback from some groups

     • Session focused on specific successful strategies to improve coping skills, attitudes, and approaches which will empower you to take care of yourself.

     • Six major categories which represent a well-balanced life - like spokes of a wheel –We measure satisfaction from zero near the hub of the wheel to 100 percent at the rim of the wheel.

     • Family, Social, Professional, Recreational, Emotional, Spiritual

     • The focus is on creating alternatives in each of these categories which you can build on in ways which fit your circumstances. Examples are presented and small groups will have time to discuss which of these will work for them. Ideas from the small groups will be shared with the large group.

     • Utilizing "Humor" to combat compassion fatigue

     • Pattern Interruption Exercise to stop negative emotional responses (in the handouts)

     • Shifting Gears Exercise which offer more options (in the handouts)


Review of major points and group contributions

Life balance to overcome compassion fatigue

Charles Figley, PhD, who did the seminal research in the diagnosis and treatment of Compassion Fatigue, defined it in 1995 as: "A state of exhaustion and dysfunction (biologically, psychologically, and socially) as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress" (giving of yourself without a way of replenishing your energies and resources).

As the symptoms of compassion fatigue surface, they frequently leave the veterinary clinic staff feeling irritable, in despair, hopeless, and even incompetent. He or she begins to dread coming in to work. Nightmares are common for those experiencing this kind of stress. You may even experience discomfort in the form of secondary symptoms of post-traumatic stress, sleeplessness, flashbacks, a lack of interest or the inability to enjoy life.

Caring has its costs. No question, you love your job! As caregivers, you have your personal antennae turned outwards toward others, and reach out to help. This often feels so satisfying that it's easy to get hooked on the experience. The compassion faucet flows out – but you may have forgotten how to turn the faucet off, and nurture yourselves.

Effective time management will give you the freedom to plan for life balance

You need a variety of positive coping skills. Every one of your coping mechanisms work at least some of the time – or you wouldn't even consider it an option. Positive coping skills can be divided into six categories: Family, Emotional, Professional, Social and Community, Recreational, and Spiritual.

     • Family: Having an active and engaged support system at home. Work to establish a cooperative, caring, understanding relationship.

     • Emotional: When you begin to notice your own signals of burnout, stress, or compassion fatigue, you need to separate yourself from the emotional triggers of the important work.

     • Professional: It would be lonely if you had to encounter your professional challenges all by yourself. Collaboration and continued education are important aspects of your ethics.

     • Social and Community: Make social plans with friends when you have some time to yourself. Get involved in community activities, charities, or service clubs.

     • Recreational: Focus on personal hobbies – like crafts or collections, sports such as tennis, golf or swimming, or even small pleasures like doing crossword puzzles which give you pleasure.

     • Spirituality: You can have spirituality with no formalized expression of it. It is the belief that there is something more encompassing, accepting, and loving than self.

Shifting gears exercise

Stress is not intrinsically bad for us. Too much for too long a time will be overwhelming. Too little can be dull, deadening, and boring.

The key to a healthful lifestyle and effective stress management is the ability to pace ourselves so we minimize the strain of stress and maximize its benefits.

The complexity of our lives often demands that we shift gears several times a day, or even several times an hour in response to the kaleidoscope of challenges we face. Sometimes we need to slow down, relax, and shift to a lower gear. Sometimes we need to gear up: to rev ourselves up to meet a challenge. At other times we need to loosen up; to release tension. The tricky part is to know when to do what!

     1. Slowing down: Racing from on task to another, anxiety, or worry.

     2. Gearing up: Before a presentation, surgery, meeting new clients, getting energy to finish a project.

     3. Loosen up: Driving in rush hour, waiting in line, holding on a phone.

     4. Think of stress situations in your life in the recent past, how would you imagine any or all of these options would have been helpful

     5. Think about how you did respond to these events. What action did you take to relieve the stress?

Slow down techniques:

     • 10 Second Breathing – In an acute situation when your mind or body is racing out of control, slow down your breathing to a 10 second cycle (6 breaths a minute). Find a clock or watch with a second hand – and inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat for 2-5 minutes.

     • 60 Second Break – Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Visualize yourself lounging on a sunny beach, watching the sunset or relaxing in a bathtub, shower, or sauna.

     • 5 Minute Vacation – Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, then visualize your favorite vacation place or activity. Let your imagination carry you away to a special spot that's refreshing and relaxing.

     • Chest Massage – Relax your chest muscles and open up your breathing with a vigorous massage along the midline and across the chest below your collarbones.

     • Bother List – Write down a list of all the worries, pressures, or concerns that are crowding your mind and demanding attention. Then burn the list, or tuck it in your wallet for later attention.

     • Peaceful Focus – Focus on something pleasant and beautiful in your immediate environment (a blade of grass, a painting, a color) Concentrate on the beauty you see and breathe it in. Allow that beauty to slow you down.

Gear up techniques:

     • Stretch and Move – Stand up and stretch. Arch your back and stretch your arms and fingers out wide. Hold that posture for awhile and then let go. Now move your body all around to get the blood pumping. Clap your hands. Do jumping jacks. Move!

     • Exhilaration Break – Imagine yourself somewhere exciting, exhilarating, or awe-inspiring (standing on a cliff above the ocean, getting a standing ovation, cheering at an exciting football game, crossing the finish line at a race, laughing at a joke with friends, or giving birth). Let the vividness of that vision charge up your batteries.

     • Pep Talk – Give yourself a pep talk. Use your best persuasive powers to motivate, encourage, cajole, support, cheer, or challenge yourself. Ask someone else to join you.

     • Stirring Music – Turn on some lively music like a march, polka, or rock and roll. Start moving, dance, bounce, march, sing along, get involved. Let the music pump you up and pull you along.

     • Body Bracer – Gently pat or tap all over your body in an energizing rhythm. Keep it up until you feel tingly all over and are charged up.

     • Exercise – Vigorous exercise of any kind is a sure fire way to get geared up. Be creative for extra fun and energy.

Loosen up techniques:

     • Pretzel – Imagine that your body is all tied up in knots and only you know how to untie them. Beginning with your toes and gradually move up the body, tense and relax each set of muscles. Visualize that you are tightening the knots as you tense the muscles and picture yourself undoing the knots as you relax the muscles and let go of the tension.

     • Breathe into Tension – Close your eyes and take a deep breath. As you become aware of any points of tension, "breathe into" that spot, allowing the breath to bring calm to the area and carry away tension as you exhale.

     • Self Massage – Reach across you body and massage the muscles of your neck and shoulder with long firm strokes. Knead any especially tight areas with firm circular or back and forth motions. Then repeat the process on the other side. With both hands massage the base of your sku;; with firm, circular strokes. Continue over the scalp and face, stopping to give special attention wherever you notice tension. Remember to massage and loosen the jaw.

     • Shake a Leg – Stand up and shake an arm, a leg, the other arm, the other leg, and your whole body. Take a deep breath and let yourself go limp all over.



Draw a straight line across each category to represent the degree of your satisfaction in each of these six areas of your life on a scale from one to ten. The hub represents "one" (1) amount of satisfaction with a greater percent of satisfaction as you get closer to the edge of that category. If it touches the outer rim, it represents 100% satisfaction in that part of your life. If there is too great a difference in the categories, you would have a very bumpy ride. Identify one or two scores you want to impact immediately. What actions will you take? When will you take these actions? What support do you require to ensure that the actions occur?

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