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Addressing compassion fatigue

Dr. Tara Tucker (MD, Med, FRCPC, Director of the Faculty Wellness Program, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa and Assistant Professor in the Division of Palliative Care, Department of Medicine at the University of Ottawa), explores compassion fatigue. She discusses the importance of self awareness, education, and support methods. Transcripts parts were taken by interview provided to the Canadian Virtual Hospice, and was released by Creative Commons license.

We talk in the workshops about being in the green zone, the yellow zone and the red zone. The green zone is when you feel that everything’s going well, you’re right on your game, your day is great. The yellow zone is when you feel “so and so, not a bad day, but I’m not feeling so great”. And the red zone is when you’re really in the throes of compassion fatigue.

What’s really important is to understand what your green zone, your yellow zone, your red zones are, so that you know where you are. If you’re approaching the yellow zone, or approaching the red zone, then you know what you need to do for self-care.

Every person will have a different strategy for self-care. One of the things that we do in the workshops, is to help everybody to actually write out their own strategy for self-care, because it is very personalized. What’s most important is understanding it, recognizing it and doing something about it early on.

For people who are very deeply in the throes of compassion fatigue, self-care is still very important and sometimes we need professional help at that point as well. That’s something that we sometimes don’t do in this profession, is really look after ourselves.

Part of understanding compassion fatigue and being educated about it, bringing it into the workplace, bringing it in the conversations into the workplace, is having a way of talking about it. Using the green, yellow and red zone is one way of understanding it ourselves, as in understanding ourselves.

But it’s also another way of communicating. For example, one of my colleagues may come into my office and she’s just had a just a very difficult, or draining experience. She’ll ask me “Can I unload this on you?”, “Can I talk about this?” If I really can’t listen to it in that moment, I’ll say “You know, I’m in the red zone right now, can you tone it down a little, or can we talk about another time, or do you really need to talk about it right now” Thus, it’s important in the workplace that we know how to talk about it with each other, that we do talk about it and that we will respect each other. Because sometimes when we feel really emotional about something, we just want to unload it. Sometimes we unload it in all its detail, and maybe our co-worker is not ready to hear it at that moment. So we need to start asking permission and to to find ways and words to use to talk about it with our colleagues at work.

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