Combatting Compassion Fatigue: Easy and Effective Strategies, Part 2
Combatting compassion fatigue is a reality for parents raising children with significant disabilities and special needs. Jessica Temple, a clinical neuropsychologist and mom of two children with special needs explains how to use a technique called IMPROVE to deal with compassion fatigue.
When life is really hard and we are in the trenches, caring for our children 24/7, we don’t always have the time or energy for combatting compassion fatigue. A strategy called IMPROVE requires very little time to make a huge impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.
I = Imagery: Picture your happiest memory, your favorite place, or the most relaxing place you can imagine, even if it doesn’t exist–anywhere that is happy or soothing to you. Close your eyes and mentally transport yourself there using all your senses as if you were really there.
M = Meaning: Examine your life and your difficult or distressing circumstances, or some part of your situation, for meaning. This can often help you cope with or tolerate the situation better, knowing that there is meaning even in hard moments.
P = Prayer: Prayer can be very important, and is flexible in definition. It can be religious in nature or come in some other form. This can include engaging in mindfulness or meditation, or focusing your thoughts and energy on a song, quote, sound, or mantra.
R = Relaxation: In this case, relaxation doesn’t have to be a massage or luxurious bubble bath. It does mean relieving your body of physical tension. This can be done by using progressive muscle relaxation. Just tense your muscles for 3 seconds and then relax them. Do this twice for each muscle group, from head to toe. You can also stretch your body or engage in deep breathing by taking deep belly breaths and then taking twice as long to exhale.
O = One Thing in the Moment: Focus on just one thing for one minute. Focus on your breath, one thought going through your mind, your experience making breakfast, or how it feels to walk over to your child. This helps us move our thoughts from the past and future and into the present.
V = Vacation: Obviously the combination of COVID-19 and caring for special needs children doesn’t allow for a physical vacation this summer. However you can take a short break from your circumstances. It could be a one night respite retreat or an afternoon with a friend. It could also be going to the grocery store, a nice walk, a mindful hot shower, or a hideout in the bathroom.
E = Encouragement: Self-talk comes into play here. Not telling yourself that everything will be perfect, but offering yourself realistic encouragement about how things are going and how they will be in the future. In addition, think kind thoughts. Think about what you would say to someone else who was going through your experience and tell yourself that.
That’s the IMPROVE strategy in a nutshell. I hope it makes combatting compassion fatigue a little easier for you.
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Jessica Temple, PsyD, ABPP-CN, is a board-certified adult clinical neuropsychologist. She has two children who have special needs. She and her husband, Lewis, host a podcast called Thriving in The Midst of Chaos, where they talk about all aspects of special needs including getting a diagnosis and treatment, self-care, relationships, transitioning to adulthood, school, and finances. They created Thriving in The Midst of Chaos to offer support to others in the special needs world as well as to provide an easy way to find the most useful resources. They aim to share helpful resources with others, advocate for improvement, change in the special needs world, and offer a different perspective on parenting. To find out more about how Jessica’s work can help you, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @midstofchaospod on all social media platforms.
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