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Compassion Fatigue: What it is & How to Cope   

“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves, that we would to others.” - Christopher Germer

In times like these, reading the news can become incredibly tiresome. It is completely normal choose to disconnect for a bit. However, not everyone is afforded that luxury. Compassion fatigue occurs when people who care for sick and/or traumatized people are physically and mentally exhausted, resulting in emotional withdrawal. It is commonly referred to as “the cost of caring.” Compassion fatigue is similar but not quite the same as burnout. Burnout is emotional exhaustion that is a result of feeling defeated and overwhelmed at work, but it does not affect our capacity to care for others. Many men and women who work in healthcare end up neglecting their mental health whilst coping with the traumatic events and stories that stick with them. When left untreated, compassion fatigue can develop into clinical depression. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include, but are not limited to, insomnia, physical and mental fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Many people who experience compassion fatigue experience denial and this prolongs their condition.

There is no shame in admitting that you are emotionally exhausted. Healthcare workers and first responders dedicate their lives to helping others and their experiences need to be validated. Their emotional and physical well-being is just as important and essential, especially in our current climate. There is an immense amount of fear that comes with compassion fatigue. There is a fear of being criticized and characterized as cold, callous and insensitive. Compassion fatigue is extremely common, treatable and not worth ignoring. Now, more than ever, we need to start normalizing compassion fatigue.

a woman sits on the edge of a deck overlooking the forestWorking in a job that requires emotional labour is enough to induce compassion fatigue, but many health care workers are also a part of the “sandwich generation,” meaning that they take care of both children and aging parents. Personal issues and circumstances that affect emotional well-being contribute to the overwhelming feeling that only worsens over time. Combatting and treating compassion fatigue requires recognizing the issue and taking the time to truly care for yourself, so you can continue to care for others.

Regular breaks, access to mental health services and a supportive work environment are a few strategies that can combat compassion fatigue. Self-care is crucial and checking in on yourself is just as important as checking in on those around you. If you are working in the front lines during these unprecedented times, it may feel like your emotional and physical care come secondary. Just know that there is help available and many people want to give you the same care that you have provided for others. If you’re feeling like you don’t have much more to give, counselling and therapy are two options that can help the recovery process. If you recognize compassion fatigue in someone you know whether it be at work or in your personal life, remember to empathize with the incredible amount of stress and anxiety that is a product of compassion fatigue.          

The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project lists a number of resources on their website, https://www.compassionfatigue.org, specifically directed at combating this condition. If you or someone you know is suffering from compassion fatigue, just know that you are never alone.

References:

Carter, Sherrie Bourg. “Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 July 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/high-octane-women/201407/are-you-sufferi...

Mathieu, Françoise. Running on Empty: Compassion Fatigue in Health Professionals. Rehab & Community Care Medicine, 2007, www.compassionfatigue.org/pages/RunningOnEmpty.pdf.