Volunteer Burnout and the Importance of Self-Care

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Volunteer burnout (sometimes called vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue) can be a result of volunteers’ devotion to those they serve. The empathy that  draws us to the role of child advocate can be a double-edged sword. As you work with traumatized children, the complexities of their lives, their history and ongoing relationships can become burdensome. Although boundaries and the emotional component of being a CASA volunteer are covered in training, we often encounter unexpected upset that may not easily settle.

We have not been directly exposed to the trauma scene, but we hear the story told with such intensity, or we hear similar stories so often, or we have the gift and curse of extreme empathy and we suffer. We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.” – C. Figley, 1995

Signs of Volunteer Burnout and Self-Care Strategies

Burnout in one area of our lives can encroach on other areas. Self-awareness is key in self-care. It’s good practice to look for signs of burnout in ourselves and others so we can take early steps in self-care. Below are some common signs of volunteer burnout:

Feeling overwhelmed or worn out by your role;
Feelings like your efforts have no impact;
Becoming increasingly pessimistic or irritable;
Missing deadlines or appointments.

The common healthy strategies of self-care apply to volunteer burn out as well. First and foremost, refrain from judging this ‘fatigue’ as a sign of weakness, or that you’re just not cut out for this work. Reflect on the what’s happening in your life or in your volunteer work, in particular. Did something happen that was unexpected or especially difficult to handle? Are there increased responsibilities in other areas or your life?

Self-care techniques that include keeping a journal, meditation and long walks outdoors are always beneficial. Reach out sooner, rather than later, to any staff that supports your volunteer efforts to discuss the issues that concern you.

Finally, just remember that your volunteer work may come difficulties, but your committed acts of kindness and the positive changes that you have on another’s life will, in the end, far outweigh any challenges that you will face along the way.

 


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

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