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What to Do When You Feel Compassion Fatigue

Here are some ways to take the proper steps to care for yourself as you care for others.

Have you ever felt like you’ve cared so much you just can’t anymore? Like you’re exhausted from taking care of others? Even if you’ve never heard of compassion fatigue, you may be familiar with what it is. Maybe more familiar than you’d like.

What is compassion fatigue?

Psychologist Charles Figley says it’s “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

In essence, it’s feeling like you have no more empathy to give.

Compassion fatigue is most often associated with health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, therapists and at-home caregivers. But we’re all at risk of feeling this way.

Let’s face it: Life can be downright draining. 

Caring for sick or aging loved ones may be wearing you out. Perhaps you’re tired of giving grace to your spouse. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything left to give your kids. The non-stop flow of information about the suffering around the world can overwhelm you. All these things (and more) can contribute to a feeling of emotional exhaustion.

The root of compassion fatigue is in caring for others.

It would be easy to confuse compassion fatigue with burnout, but they’re a bit different. According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout is marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with cumulative stress at work. [Read https://firstthings.org/7-ways-to-prevent-burnout/.]

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 thing, but it can co-exist with burnout, especially for those in service professions.

Look for these symptoms.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are:

  • Physical and psychological exhaustion
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
  • A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
  • A change in your worldview or spirituality
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • A dramatic withdrawal from social connections

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, caring for yourself properly can help you care effectively for others. So, if (or when) you find that you’ve run out of empathy to give, understanding how to combat those feelings can help you move forward. 

Fighting Compassion Fatigue

Psychiatrist Yazhini Srivathsal, M.D., offers a few ways to combat compassion fatigue:

  • Follow general self-care guidelines – get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and nurture social relationships.
  • Practice gratitude and being engaged in the present moment.
  • Avoid information overload. If too much negative information stresses you out, take steps to decrease how much you consume.
  • Engage in activities that rejuvenate you.
  • Understand that pain and suffering are normal, and 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 to you, but you can control how you react.
  • If needed, seek professional help.

Helping others is an important component of healthy relationships. Your partner, your children, and your loved ones depend on you, and that can be overwhelming. When you feel compassion fatigue begins to set in, take the proper steps to care for yourself. If you see these signs in your loved ones, stepping in and offering to walk alongside them can alleviate some of their load.

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated as a Parent – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

5 Benefits of Being Thankful – First Things First

Sources:

Compassion Fatigue – The American Institute of Stress

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue? | Psychology Today

Compassion Fatigue: Symptoms To Look For

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue: Watch for These Warning Signs | Banner

Why Compassion is One of the Most Important Qualities in a Healthy Marriage

You won't believe how it benefits you, your spouse, and your relationship!

Compassion is important in marriage! 

Did you know that there’s a whole science behind compassion in relationships? Seriously! Ok, bear with me, even if you’re not a researchy-geek like me (I promise I won’t make this sound like your high school chemistry book.) Because compassion is majorly important in marriages, even more so than you might think. And research has a lot to say about it. 

Just like anything sciency, it’s essential to define terms well. And sometimes compassion, empathy, and sympathy get mixed up. Let’s untangle that. 

Sympathy = You share the same feelings or experiences with someone else. They hurt, you hurt. You can sympathize. 

Empathy = You don’t share the same feelings or experiences, but you choose to imagine what it might be like. They hurt; you don’t but can put yourself in their shoes. You can empathize. 

And then we come to compassion. This is when you empathize/sympathize with someone (say, your spouse), and you’re prompted to show kindness in their situation. 

They hurt. You empathize/sympathize. You say something to lift their spirits. Compassion! 

So, sympathy/empathy are only the beginning of compassion. One study even suggests being empathetic is good to a point, but it can actually affect you negatively unless it’s followed up by compassion.1  

So compassion is more than a feeling. (Classic rock fans, anyone?) Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, compassion isn’t really beneficial unless it’s put into action. One researcher describes compassionate acts as “caregiving that is freely given.”

Think about this in your marriage. 

No matter what your spouse experiences, good days or bad, you can: 

  • Sympathize with them, or…
  • Choose to empathize with them, and then…
  • Feel compassion toward them, which…
  • Prompts compassionate action


Y’all…we should be doing this all the time in our marriage! 

Why? (Here we go with the science again…) Research3 tells us compassion is good for you, your spouse, and your marriage!

  • Compassion toward a spouse predicts higher levels of daily relationship and life satisfaction for both people. (Don’t miss this: happiness in marriage goes up on a daily basis! Who doesn’t want that?)  
  • Compassionate acts benefit the emotional and mental well-being of the person receiving them (in this case, your spouse). 
  • The person who is acting compassionately toward their spouse also experiences a positive effect on their well-being, even if the spouse doesn’t necessarily recognize the compassionate act! 

Bottom line: Compassionate acts do a marriage good. 

It makes you a better spouse. It makes your spouse a better person. And it makes your marriage more loving, intimate, and strong. 

Let’s consider one more reason why compassion might be one of the most important qualities in marriage. No matter who you are, most of us would agree that the world could always use a little more compassion. What if the real power of compassion in our world begins with compassionate action in our marriages and families? We know kindness is contagious.4 As they say: as families go, so goes the world. 

So, inject some compassionate action into your marriage — for your spouse, for you, for the world. 

Sources:

1 Functional Neural Plasticity and Associated Changes in Positive Affect After Compassion Training

2Compassionate Love: A Framework For Research

3Compassionate Acts and Everyday Emotional Well-being Among Newlyweds

4Social Contagion Theory: Examining Dynamic Social Networks and Human Behavior

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