What is Compassion Fatigue and How To Cope With it
Learn how to deal with compassion fatigue and recognize the symptoms of it. With time you can begin to feel like yourself again and notice when you begin to lose empathy toward others due to your work field or circumstances.
Since the start of the pandemic, globally we have experienced great lost. We have experienced more grief over our lost freedom, the ability to maintain our routines, not seeing family, constant worrying about our health and the wellbeing of our loved ones, financial hits and the increase in deaths.
For months, health care workers, social workers, those on the front lines and people who have seen the effects of the coronavirus through different interactions have been feeling worn out.
"I can't do this, this is too much, I'm tired" I've uttered those sentences more in the last 10 months than I have in my entire life.
The feeling of fatigue associated with caring for others has been coined compassion fatigue.
Keep reading to find out what exactly it is, how can you can notice if it is happening to you, and what you can do about it.
**This post is in collaboration with Nikky from @MomentsUnfolded an Instagram page geared toward advocating for mental health and healing**
Related Post: How to prevent burnout
Related Post:: 11 obvious signs you need a lifestyle change
What is compassion fatigue
In essence, this can be defined as emotional and physical exhaustion.
A type of stress that results from helping or wanting to help those who are traumatized or under significant emotional duress.
Used in reference to providers
It was previously a term used heavily to describe those who were in a field where they constantly needed to think of someone else's needs (social workers, therapists, nurses etc.) but with COVID-19 being the new topic of 2020, it can apply to those who feel responsible for the health of those who are more at risk.
Why is it important
It’s undeniable that being in a space where one has to provide emotional and healing support is an incredibly demanding experience. Regular exposure to this environment can result in compassion fatigue.
In the words of Naomi Rachel Remen, “the expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it, is as unrealistic as expecting to walk through water without getting wet”.
How has it affected young adults
86.9 percent of emergency response workers reported having symptoms after being exposed to highly distressing events with traumatized people.
A 2015 study discovered that people serving the community — such as firefighters, police and animal rescue workers — were found to have the highest rates of suicide in the workplace: 5.3 per 1,000,000 workers.
What are the symptoms?
Bottling up emotions
Feeling discouraged about the world
Exhaustion and irritability
High attrition (helpers leaving the field)
Compulsive behaviours (e.g. engaging in risky behaviour; overeating)
How can you cope with compassion fatigue?
Try to reduce exposure to repeated trauma
This can look different for everyone. Limit the amount of news that you watch and avoid temptation to open up media headlines before you have begun your day.
Although this can be challenging for people who are in professions where this is inevitable, attempt this as much as possible. Do this gradually and perhaps start a diary where you can document how you feel each day.
Don’t forget to celebrate progress, the little wins always count.
Be aware of the signs
Once you can recognize the symptoms take a moment to sit still.
As your body and mind lose the capacity to be there as much for others, acknowledging that you need a change is the first step toward making the necessary shifts. You can't set boundaries effectively until you know that a boundary is needed.
Connect with others
Try to talk to somebody that you trust, whether that’s a family member, a friend or a coworker.
Ideally, if you are working in an emotionally demanding field, get in touch with somebody who works in a similar role. They will more easily understand what you are going through and may be able to offer help and emotional support.
Your support system can keep an eye out for any changes in your behavior that can be worrying.
Interacting with others whether it's through FaceTime, text messages or a socially distanced interaction is essential to keeping your mind healthy.
Ensure you cover the basic steps of self-care every day. Make a conscious effort to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet based around wholefoods and include some form of exercise.
If you are struggling with this, ask a friend to help you out or keep reminders on your phone or notepad.
This step is crucial in ensuring your physical health is not impacted.
Be present in the moment
Check in with yourself, pretend you are speaking with a friend. What would make you feel more at ease? Can you give yourself anything at the moment? When is the last time you ate or had water?
Feeling parched and replenishing your body with water, even if it means stepping away from your desk or laptop, is a small and mighty way to indulge in self care.
Prioritize Self Care
Make time in your day for you
Whether this is waking up an hour before the kids or an hour before you have to get ready for work, it is your time. Beginning your day with activities that suit your needs can give you motivation to start your day.
No matter what happens after your shift begins or you interact with the world, you had 60 minutes of uninterrupted me time.
Resist the urge to buy happiness
But as we learn to deal with and cope with our feelings/circumstances it's important to not link an over priced shopping trip with something that will solve all of our problems.
Invest in your needs
A therapeutic self care box with all things that make you feel better about yourself can help you to get through a long day.
It doesn't have to be physical items, a good podcast, some encouraging music, and a healthy scroll through motivational instagram pages, can boost your mood and help center you again.
Other pages on Instagram, like @MomentsUnfolded help to provide useful information in a way that is easy to understand. They've also assisted me in writing this blog post, shout out to Nikky for being an amazing co-author.
Set SMART goals
I love SMART goals because they are the key to creating mini stepping stones. Yes, we want to enforce boundaries and learn to say no every time we feel like it, but sometimes you have to work up toward it.
Example Money Goal
Example Self Care Goal
Your SMART goal to combat compassion fatigue can be to take 5 minutes a day to journal out your feelings for the duration of a week.
Your goal can also be to use the last few minutes of every shift to wrap up any work that you are doing so when it is time for you to leave, you go.
What else can you do?
Take a day off
Compassion Fatigue is important to recognize because of the effects it has on your mental health. There are times, when you are drained from your job but you can't take a day off because you don't have sick days or because your employer simply wont let you.
This is where you can prioritize yourself by creating a sinking fund so that if you need to miss a day of work to rejuvenate your mind, body and soul, take a day to be kind to yourself, you won't have to worry about your check being short.
You can acknowledge that something in your daily life is draining you, and begin to develop the tools needed to shift your lifestyle. If you need to escape for a weekend and stay in a hotel you can use the savings you created to do that.
If you need to transition jobs, then your emergency fund will be there to back you up as you get back on your feet.
In conclusion we wanted to bring awareness to something that is often experienced but not labeled.
Understanding your mind helps you to develop coping mechanisms that are suited to your needs without putting you in more debt or creating more stress.
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