With everything going on in our country right now, it is hard to not feel stressed, taxed or overwhelmed, especially those in caregiving positions. Our nation, as a community, is struggling with compassion fatigue as we are bombarded daily with one tragedy after another. I hope this can be a resource to remind you this is a normal feeling and we’re all experiencing it right now. I, myself, have begun to see the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue.
So, I am writing this post to remind myself and support others. Often compassion fatigue can bring up feelings of shame or guilt for “not doing enough”, but I keep returning to this quote:
“I had never been told that empathy is a finite resource. You can run out. As a normal, psychological response, you cannot give of yourself again and again and again without replenishing.” – Emmett Fitzgerld
Though he names empathy – compassion is empathy in action, so this is very much a description of how compassion fatigue materializes in our lives.
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is the phenomenon when the helpers in the world: therapist, teachers, caregivers, nurses, doctors, etc… experience what is called secondary trauma. The persistent demand of caring for others overtime wears on the emotional fabric of those helping.
Despite what people often think, compassion fatigue is not the same as burnout. Burnout happens over time when the demands on oneself outweigh one’s resources or ability to cope. It is hard to reverse or recover from burnout without the complete cessation of your workload.
However, compassion fatigue happens more suddenly, but can be prevented or reversed through emotional support and structured self-care.
Signs & Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue:
It has been noted in research that the signs and symptoms helpers experience often mirror the symptoms of the victims they are caring for.
- Sadness, Greif
- Depression & anxiety
- Dread, horror, fear
- Vivid nightmares, trouble sleeping
- Flashbacks to their own trauma
- Numbing and avoidance
- Viewing the world as unsafe
- Poor self-esteem
- Survivors guilt or guilt for enjoying life
Steps to help prevent or reverse Compassion Fatigue:
Typically helpers developed their passion to help due to their own experiences with similar traumas. This can make compassion fatigue more likely for those helpers whose own trauma is triggered by those they are caring for. It is especially important that those helpers have structured self-care and are acutely self-aware.
- Structured Self-Care – this means making self-care non-negotiable, like you would a doctor’s appointment. The more routine and consistent it can be, the better. Self-care can look like: hobbies, support groups, yoga classes, alone time, or anything else that helps you recharge.
- Quality Sleep – this can feel like it is not in your control, but there are things that help improve your sleep quality and quantity. Ritualizing a nighttime routine. This psychologically prepares your body for bed. A hot bath or shower before bed. The drastic drop in temperature when you get out simulates what happens during sleep. Keeping the temperature in your bedroom cool. Bodies sleep more soundly in cooler temperatures. Remove electronics from the bedroom, not only because of the blue light which makes us think it is daytime, but the content on the news can trigger anxiety. Listen to a sleep medication. Humans fall asleep faster to the sound of human voices.
- Listening to music – particularly slow, relaxing music, but whatever music relaxes you and helps cue your brain and body that you’re safe.
- Spend time in nature – research shows that numerous things in nature calm our bodies and brains. Spending time connected to the wider world can give perspective. Taking in the beauty of the natural world often brings up feelings of gratitude or appreciation. The earth’s electromagnetic field has been shown to relax our own energy fields.
If you are already experiencing compassion fatigue, this list of to-dos might feel like I’m piling onto your already maxed out plate. So, take it slow. Choose the easiest one on the list and try to be consistent. Ask for help from family and friends in keeping to your self-care routine. If you have a therapist, ask them to support you.
Shameless plug, follow me on IG because every Saturday I post self-care ideas, which can be a helpful reminder that your own care matters.