I think we've all felt it. It's that uncomfortable feeling of empathy absence that you know you should have. That callous feeling that didn't come on overnight, it's been years in the making. It's the under reaction of emotional numbness. Maybe you notice it on a call, after a call, at home when dealing with family. So what exactly is compassion fatigue? What can we do about it? How can we get it back?
"Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as therapists (paid and unpaid), nurses, teachers, psychologists, police officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), firefighters, animal welfare workers, health unit coordinators and anyone who helps out others, especially family members, relatives, and other informal caregivers of patients suffering from a chronic illness. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s."(Day, Anderson(2011))
"The nature of some of these professions, combined with one’s life choices, can result in living life in a continually up-regulated state of sympathetic dominance, or the “fight or flight” nervous system."(Andrade, 2017)
What can we do to stay healthy:
"The stress response has been shown to have a similar effect on the brain as trauma and hence practices like interoceptive based yoga, mindfulness, breath, meditation and gratitude practices can be essential part of cultivating resilience. By building one’s own resources they can better meet their environment, and weather the peaks and valleys of life with more presence and connection to one’s true self and state of being."(Andrade, 2017)
Getting in Touch With Your Vagus Nerve
"Another cornerstone to my toolbox is yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep.” Some yoga nidra programs mention that 30 minutes of yoga nidra is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep in terms of brain activity, other say 20 minutes is equivalent to 1 hour, but what is the science behind it? New studies in Copenhagen using brain scans and electroencephalograph (EEG) show that nidra practices increase theta activity, which can improve our intuition and creativity, and it activates different parts of the brain related to emotional, visual and tacticle processing, as well as one’s sense of self." (Andrade, 2017)
"Such areas are often negatively affected by the continual up-regulation of the nervous system which can have unintended impacts over time on our neural pathways. These impacts often feed a cycle of stress, disrupting not only one’s emotional state, but also our immune system, our ability to function in the work place and maintain inter-personal relationships. The result over time can be a narrower window of tolerance and weaker vagal tone." (Andrade, 2017)
"Hence as a person who is often upregulated, another key tool in my toolbox is stimulating the Vagus nerve to downregulate, and strengthening vagal tone. The vagus nerve is not only the longest nerve in the body but it also has one of the most important jobs – it’s the main implementer for the parasympathetic system, or our ‘rest and digest’ system. It innervates the heart and regulates many of the body’s internal organ systems, most of which operate at a subconscious level like digestion, glands, heart, lungs, etc." (Andrade, 2017)
Ways to stimulate the Vagus Nerve
"There are many ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, but one of the more effective ways is to target the stomach where there is the largest body of nerve endings. This can be done by laying on the stomach with a rolled-up blanket or using another implement, such as the Coregous ball, starting with small increments of time and building up from there. Other great ways to stimulate the nerve can be though the ocular endings with eye movements or using an app, or activating the nerve endings in the shoulder – which can be done very easily with an ALPHA ball against a column or an original Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball on a block." (Andrade, 2017)
Over the next few months we will be looking into different ways to activate your Parasympathetic System. The goal is to work with a local yoga instructor, Wendy Soper, and bring Nidra to our members.
Day, Jennifer R.; Anderson, Ruth A. (2011-09-08). "Compassion Fatigue: An Application of the Concept to Informal Caregivers of Family Members with Dementia". Nursing Research and Practice. 2011: 1–10.
Andrade, Samara(2017-04-26)."Self Care Strategies for Aid Workers and First Responders". Tuneup Fitness.com. https://www.tuneupfitness.com/blog/2017/04/26/self-care-strategies-for-aid-workers-and-first-responders/
Beyond the Gear is a informational place where firefighters and their families can read and take steps at living a healthier life. Healthy body starts with a healthy mind. I hope you enjoy.