Ministry Monday: Compassion Fatigue Tips to Combat the Stress of Pastoral Care
Do you feel like you are running on empty? Do you wake up in the morning dreading the day? Do you feel like there is an endless of cycle of giving more, serving more, doing more, and being more? Are you are exhausted? As a pastor, you are inundated with people’s needs, crisis, organizational demands, responsibilities of team building, leadership, growing a church, preaching on Sundays (and potentially Wednesdays), making hospital calls, keeping your family a priority, and the list never ends. Shutting the door to work and going home is a blurry line that many struggle to balance. Pastors, along with healthcare providers, emergency workers, first responders, and social workers/counselors are prone to develop compassion fatigue.
In ministry, you are at the forefront of hearing about people’s pain, their trauma, and their suffering. Research suggests that one in every four people seeking treatment do so from clergy (Jacobson, Rothschild, & Shapiro, 2003).1 Compassion fatigue is a natural result of working with hurting people. The key is implementing prevention strategies that can safeguard you against developing full blown compassion fatigue. However, if you are reading this feeling like you are in a rut or scoring high on the charts of compassion fatigue, there is help and there is hope. It won’t always feel this way.
Combat Pastoral Care Stress: Ways to Prevent Compassion Fatigue
Know who you are –
What do you thrive on? What stresses you out? How does your nervous system react to various traumatic stories or experiences? What are your reactions to people’s pain? To know what type of plan to put in place, it is paramount that you understand how you tick, what impacts you, how, and what signs indicate that you are feeling stressed.
Develop a self-care plan –
Take an honest look at what you are doing to care well for yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Set tangible and attainable goals, commit to doing them, and share with another person who can help keep you accountable.
Set boundaries –
Do you have balance between your work and home life? Do you say no? What stands in the way of setting and staying consistent with appropriate boundaries?
Practice stress reduction techniques –
What are your techniques and do you utilize them? Set daily goals to practice things that reduce your stress. This could be deep breathing, kinesthetics, family activities with laughter, playing with a pet, or taking regular trips. Whatever techniques work for you, practice them.
Increase resiliency –
This comes from inner strength, which is directly related to the care of your spirit. Spend time in the word. Abide in the love, comfort, strength, and encouragement of the Savior. The more you focus on Him and the truths of His word, the more resilient you will become in dealing with the adversities of this life.
Develop a support system –
Find relationships, friendships, and safe people with whom you can unwind and enjoy time. You’re looking for people who you can talk to openly, who you do not have to shepherd, and who invite you to just be you.
The time to develop a plan to prevent compassion fatigue is not when you are already feeling the impact and ready to throw in the towel. It is before then. The time to act is when you are functioning well, have energy, and possess the enthusiasm it takes to effectively engage in ministry. That is when it is crucial to take the time, sit down, and address these six areas.
- Jacobson, J. M., Rothschild, A., Mirza, F., & Shapiro, M. (2013). Risk for Burnout and Compassion Fatigue and Potential for Compassion Satisfaction Among Clergy: Implications for Social Work and Religious Organizations. Journal Of Social Service Research, 39(4), 455-468. doi:10.1080/01488376.2012.744627
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