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.
You may be worn out from caring for sick or aging loved ones. Perhaps you’re tired of giving grace to your spouse. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything left to give your kids. You may even be totally overwhelmed by the non-stop flow of information about the suffering around the world. All these things (and more) can contribute to a feeling of emotional exhaustion.
Compassion fatigue is rooted 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 compassion fatigue 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.