Have you ever felt like you care so much you can’t?
As if you were exhausted from taking care of others? Even if you’ve never heard of compassion fatigue, you may know what it is.
Psychologist Charles Figley says it is “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, resulting from prolonged exposure to the stress of compassion”.
Essentially, it’s like you’ve run out of empathy to give.
Compassion fatigue is most commonly associated with healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement, and home caregivers. But we are all at risk of feeling this.
You may be tired of caring for sick or aging loved ones. Maybe you are tired of giving thanks to your spouse. Maybe you feel like you have nothing more to offer your children.
You may even be totally overwhelmed by the endless flow of information about suffering around the world. All of these things (and more) can contribute to feelings of emotional exhaustion.
It would be easy to confuse compassion fatigue with burnout, but they are a little different. According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with cumulative stress at work.
Compassion fatigue occurs because of the emotional strain of supporting those who are suffering from something traumatic. It is rooted in caring for others.
It’s not just a workplace issue, but it can coexist with burnout, especially for those in service professions.
Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are:
• Physical and psychological exhaustion
• Feeling helpless, hopeless or helpless
• Decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
• A change in your worldview or spirituality
• Drastic changes in mood
• A dramatic withdrawal from social ties
Since compassion fatigue affects your mental and physical health, it also impacts the quality of your relationships with your partner, children, friends, and co-workers.
Remember that taking care of yourself properly can help you take care of others effectively. So if (or when) you find that you no longer have the empathy to give, understanding how to combat compassion fatigue can help you move forward.
Psychiatrist Yazhini Srivathsal, MD, offers some ways to combat compassion fatigue:
• Follow general guidelines for self-care – get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly and socialize.
• Practice gratitude and be engaged in the present moment.
• Avoid information overload. If too much negative information is stressing you out, take steps to reduce your consumption.
• Engage in activities that rejuvenate you.
• Understand that pain and suffering are normal and that you have no control over them.
• Focus on what you can control, like your thoughts and feelings. You may not be able to control what happens around you or on you, but you can control your reaction.
• If necessary, seek professional help.
Helping others is an important part of healthy relationships. Your partner, children, and loved ones depend on you, and it can be overwhelming.
When you feel compassion fatigue starting to set in, take the appropriate steps to take care of yourself. If you see these signs in your loved ones, stepping in and offering to walk alongside them can lighten some of their load.