Funeral Director Burnout – How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue

What is compassion fatigue for a funeral director?

Compassion fatigue (also known as funeral director burnout) and its associated apathy, fatigue and loss of empathy don’t discriminate. It can affect those in any caregiving or helping profession, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and of course — funeral directors.

When you’re in the funeral services industry, the stressors that bring about compassion fatigue and burnout are twofold. There’s the stress that comes with lengthy, irregular hours and the constant output of empathy to grieving families.

Beyond that is the less definable stress associated with working in a profession that’s often misunderstood. Although most funeral directors find their work gratifying, stigma and negative perceptions often come with the territory.

How to prevent compassion fatigue — habits to build resilience

Much has been written about how to deal with the symptoms of compassion fatigue once they occur, but not as much about how to prevent that level of fatigue. Being proactive about strengthening your mental and emotional health is key to holding onto the gratification that comes from the work you do.

It’s easy to think of the below tips as simply stress reduction or management, but there’s an important nuance to them. They are habits that build resilience, which in turn can help you avoid getting to the point of burnout or compassion fatigue.

How can you build your resilience so that it allows you to care for the needs of others while still taking care of yourself?

Meditation — tools and inspiration

Practice some form of quietude. If you’ve never meditated, now’s the time to give it a try. Perhaps you’ve previously attempted meditation and felt your practice was too inconsistent, or that you were ‘not good’ at it. Forget about that. There is no such thing as wrong, right or perfect when it comes to meditating.

The most important thing is to establish what works for you — a rhythm and routine you can stick with. Consistency is key to cultivating centeredness, calm and compassion. But don’t be hard on yourself if you miss your meditation time occasionally. Just resolve to get back on track. Even 10 minutes a day will help you feel grounded, and better able to take what the workday throws your way.

For some helpful inspiration, try a few of the meditation podcasts found on like the America Meditating Radio Show. It’s full of “conversations with featured celebrities, leaders, authors and average folks sharing success stories. Discussions provide listeners with inspiring ways to master the challenges we encounter on the journey of life.”

If guided meditation is more your speed, check out apps like Calm or Headspace. Each has a variety of both free and subscription offerings. You’ll also find relatable blogs on each site that are worth perusing.

Exercise — why and how to get enough

We all know by now just how important regular exercise is. But, if you’re like many of us, you’re still trying to figure out how to stick to a workout routine long enough to benefit from it. Make yourself a priority by scheduling exercise into your week, and firmly committing to it. The American Heart Association offers practical advice on how to get in the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, and why you want to do so.

Besides the obvious physical benefits of exercise, there are many positive emotional and mental impacts to be gained. As stated in this Health article, “Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine—that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress.” When your job requires that you consistently interact with those who are experiencing grief and extreme stress of their own, these particular benefits are especially important.

According to Time, only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of cardio per week. More than half of all Baby Boomers report doing no exercise at all. Don’t be one of them.

Boundaries are essential

It may not be easy but look for ways you can draw boundaries that help you create time and space for both you and your family. Those personal fences are crucial to maintaining resilience.

Create boundaries by ensuring you have a “second-in-command” or business partner to share management duties and off-hour phone calls with. Or, find some breathing room by giving yourself the gift of uninterrupted sleep and weekends via the use of an answering service. Of course, the best scenario is to implement both solutions.

It’s hard to exercise self-care while constantly on call. Without separation between your personal and professional lives, both your health and the quality of service you deliver to client families will suffer.

Think of these resilience-building, self-care suggestions like tools in your tool belt. With them, you can maintain a strong, healthy foundation — one that allows you to deal with others’ stress and grief each day…not to mention the late night calls and crazy hours that come with running a funeral business.

Put these tools to good use and benefit yourself, your family and those that you help daily in your funeral business.

Learn more about at need funeral financing options.

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