What is Compassion Fatigue?

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Compassion fatigue is a very interesting condition that impacts many people in the helping professions like teachers, counselors, doctors, and first responders and those who are caregivers of a loved one. So what is compassion fatigue?  Compassion fatigue is the negative consequences associated with caring about someone. Compassion fatigue is not a disorder or a disease but rather symptoms that professionals and caregivers experience from being exposed to second hand trauma, suffering, inequality, and distress. Like most conditions associated with mental health, individuals with compassion fatigue will manifest traits in many ways.

 Some common symptoms can include lack of empathy or compassion for those who are suffering or feeling numb to the pain and suffering of others. This is your brain’s way of trying to protect itself from second hand trauma and being affected by the pain of others. Another common symptom of compassion fatigue may be over empathizing and feeling others’ pain too deeply to the point where it causes anxiety, irritability, and depression in the caregiver. Individuals who manifest compassion fatigue in this way tend to “take their work home with them” or “take on other peoples’ problems to solve”. 

 We see so much sadness and dysfunction at work, in our communities, on television, and at home and we all process it in different ways. Especially during  the pandemic, there has been an increase in physical illness, mental health struggles, and financial woes that have impacted so many of us. Compassion fatigue is a real thing, especially in the present moment.  So what can individuals do who are experiencing compassion fatigue?

Set boundaries– Set limits to the time you spend at work, to your charitable donations, and the time you spend thinking about or doing work outside of hours. Practice saying “No“.

Stay grounded– Try to stay present, check in with yourself multiple times a day and name what you are feeling. Mindfulness activities are great ways to stay in the moment and will help with feeling numb to others’ suffering and pushing your feelings aside.

Feel your feelings– Don’t spend too much time ruminating about the sadness or pain you come across in your day; however, it is healthy to name what you are feeling and to honor that feeling then gently let the feeling go.

Practice self-care– Taking care of yourself, being kind and gentle with your self-talk, and making time for you are great ways to combat compassion fatigue. If you dedicate 100% of your time to any one person, place or thing, you will end up resenting it. Take time for you.

Accept reality- Life is unfortunately filled with suffering and injustice. Accept what you can control and change and what responsibilities come with your role. Don’t get stuck on the “why” things are unfair or sad.  People get sick, people die, and people take advantage of and hurt others. These things are all very sad but you cannot control, fix or prevent any of that. Focus your energy on what you can do. You are only responsible for your behaviors. Become familiar with your values and moral obligations.

Take care of yourselves!

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