Compassion fatigue happens when you spend too much time looking after others and not enough time taking care of yourself.
It’s what happens when those that work in caring professions (teaching, midwifery, nursing, care workers, social workers and health visitors) feel uncared for. When they are exhausted to the point they longer feel empathy toward those who are struggling.
At it’s most extreme, those that suffer compassion fatigue start to feel helpless and unable, or worse still unwilling to help those in need.
Compassion fatigue doesn’t stop at those in caring professions, it can affect anyone with a compassionate nature that is exposed to suffering.
Compassion fatigue can happen to anyone who has a compassionate personality. Especially, if they’re the type of person who regularly feels duty-bound, actively taking on the thoughts, feelings and emotions of others.
Compassionate people are often quick to berate themselves and can become their own harshest critics. Their internal dialogue is often unkind and unsupportive. They can tend to feel out of control mainly because they are spending to much time focused on resolving things for others – even when they’ve not been asked to!
Compassion fatigue occurs for two reasons:
1) When people feel out of control of their lives
2) When people are faced with prolonged personal conflict
2020 has definitely been a year where we’ve all experienced situations beyond our control and prolonged personal conflict.
Signs of compassion fatigue are; feeling less empathetic, feeling unsupported at work, feeling like life is not making any sense, feeling unable to offer help and support to others, feeling full of dread when it comes to going to work and feeling cynical, angry, irritable and agitated around others
Symptoms of burnout may look like this; headaches, fatigue, heartburn, IBS, unexplained pain, avoidance and unwanted habits and behaviours such as emotional eating, online gambling and alcohol misuse.
If you feel you’re slipping into compassion fatigue with the stresses that have come with 2020, there are a few things you can do…
1) Don’t wait to be saved! Save yourself first, you’ll have heard the recorded message on the aeroplane when you hit turbulence and the oxygen masks come on. It goes something like “Put your own mask on first before attempting to help the person next to you” Well, this applies here too.
2) Look after your basic needs, I know it’s obvious but it’s still often forgotten, exercise, nutrition, water and sleep.
3) Have boundaries in your relationships and learn how to say NO to things that aren’t right for you.
4) When you leave work, make sure you switch off from it. Whether you’re working from home or going out to work. It’s important to switch off and enjoy your family time.
5) Remember how resilient you are and start utilising those skills, it’ll be your emotional resilience that gets you through this period of life.