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A Crisis Response to Compassion Fatigue

– Written by Morgan Coyner and Eleanor Wells, RN, BSN, ACC, CCFP

In February, The Next Door hosted a workshop with Eleanor Wells of Cohort4Care on Compassion Fatigue. It’s a topic that is talked about a lot in behavioral health and other direct care professions. You may have heard it referred to as “burnout.” Compassion Fatigue happens when helpers are unable to rest and refuel. Under the best of circumstances and in the most certain times, Compassion Fatigue is still a threat to our staff. Most of our clients have lived through incredibly difficult things that affect how they react and behave. As you can imagine, getting to the root of an addiction and finding years of repressed trauma is hard. Walking women through this process and hearing their stories day after day can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout, especially if staff don’t prioritize their own mental health.

Two months ago, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and the world as we knew it shifted right in front of us. We moved from being able to learn about Compassion Fatigue and put plans in place to prevent it to having to find a totally different approach. Eleanor Wells puts it this way:

“If someone were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t walk up to them and start talking to them about healthy eating habits and exercise. You’d start performing CPR. The diet and exercise won’t help if you die. Those things will get addressed in time.”

We’re in a crisis right now, and that warrants a crisis response. But what does that look like? Now isn’t a time when front line workers can take a mental health day or talk to their supervisors about being overwhelmed. Everyone is overwhelmed. If Compassion Fatigue happens when people are unable to rest and a symptom of it is being unable to rest or relax, how are we supposed to refuel so that we can get back to work?

One thing we need to do is redefine “rest.” Rest doesn’t have to mean sleep. It doesn’t have to be an extended period of quiet time. Research shows that taking deep breaths makes a huge difference. The coffee break was born out of the discovery that workers were more productive when they had breaks. Even fifteen minutes makes a difference. A few other simple tips: Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Take a lap or two around your building – the fresh air and Vitamin D helps. Put down your phone.

When you ask someone for technical support with your phone or computer, what’s the first question they ask? Did you try rebooting it? A simple reboot can solve a whole host of problems. Our brains are the same way.

Right now, it’s not about big interventions. Incorporate small things throughout the day. And don’t underplay the importance of connection. We will not get through this on our own. It will take a collective resiliency. Find people who are safe to fall apart in front of. Find people who will help you notice the positives in each day. Be that person for others when you can.

We will get back to a healthier lifestyle. We will get back to a life of routine and putting safeguards in place to create healthy rhythms in our lives. Hold on. This is not the end.

Published on May 20, 2020

The Next Door’s Homecoming 2018: Hands up for Recovery!

by Ashleigh Rakestraw, Clinical Services Program Manager of The Next Door

On September 19th The Next Door excitedly hosted the first ever TND homecoming event. Staff and alumni from all over middle Tennessee came to celebrate recovery, celebrate each other and celebrate the place that so many of them call “home”. It was an absolute joy to see so many familiar faces!

When I looked around the room at the courageous, empowering women surrounding me I couldn’t help but feel inspired. I saw that women, who at one time believed that they were broken and that they had lost everything, were now mothers, daughters, entrepreneurs, business leaders, lobbyists, homeowners and advocates for recovery.  I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by overcomers. Overcomers who refused to give up, refused to give in and are now refusing to let the disease take even one more life. I watched as woman after woman celebrated their sobriety birthdays by writing their number of years, months or days clean on their hands and calling out their length of sobriety. Cheers soared for the woman who was celebrating 13 years clean, 12 years clean, 10 years clean and so on. I waited to see if the cheers would slow down as sobriety dates ranging from a few months to a few weeks were called out, but it seemed that just the opposite happened. The less sobriety time a woman had, the more the crowd cheered for her. Finally, at the end, staff asked if there was anyone with one day clean at the event. I saw one shy woman, a current client of The Next Door, with tears in her eyes, slowly raise her hand. The next events that took place filled my eyes with tears. The crowd at the event went wild. Cheers filled the room for this individual who had chosen sobriety that day. The women who had 13, 12 and 10 years clean surrounded this client with hugs, high fives and support. I heard the crowd erupt with phrases like, “That’s amazing!” “How inspiring!” “You’ve got this!” “Keep coming back- it’s worth it!” A smile spread across the face of the woman with one day clean as she realized she was not alone- that at one point, every woman in that room had just one day clean. They surrounded her because they knew that every day is a battle with the disease of addiction; and that choosing sobriety- even for one day- is something to be immensely celebrated.

Working in this field, in the middle of the worst opioid epidemic our country has ever seen, you truly begin to see how addiction is just as it’s described in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book-  “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” But looking around the room that night I saw immense hope. I realized that with women like the ones in that room, who are leading the charge on the battle against addiction and spreading the message of hope in recovery, we could in fact see a world where not even one more life is taken by this horrible disease. I am proud to share space with such powerful, courageous and bold women who share their journey with The Next Door; and I am humbled that these women call The Next Door “home.” The Next Door is ready to, alongside these women, continue fighting the disease of addiction! What a powerful time to be alive!