Do you sometimes feel like you're about to emotionally collapse at any given moment? Are you feeling increasingly more anxious, depressed, or cynical than usual? Did you once feel rejuvenated by helping others only to now feel jaded or resentful?
Compassion fatigue can happen to anyone, but it's common in caretaking roles or caretaking professions. Its impact can be insidious- but when symptoms are left untreated, they can seriously impact your mental health.
Let's get into what you need to know.
What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue refers to a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that helpers can experience as a result of caring for others. It may arise due to secondary trauma, meaning you have essentially taken on some of the trauma symptoms of someone else.
We each have thresholds for how much we can listen, care, and attend to others. After all, we are only human. So, chronically pushing yourself beyond your limits can result in an intense sense of emotional burnout.
Common signs of compassion fatigue include:
Chronic feelings of apathy about yourself, others, or the world.
Intense anger or agitation.
Being in a perpetual state of hopelessness or despair.
Finding it difficult to concentrate or focus on everyday tasks.
Crying often (or for no identified reason).
Increasingly using mood-altering substances to cope with your emotions.
Violent or dark thoughts about yourself or others.
Wanting to escape your life or change your situation dramatically.
Being sarcastic or overly cynical about your daily responsibilities.
Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, stomach pains, or sleep issues.
Keep in mind that anyone can be prone to compassion fatigue. This phenomenon is not your fault, and it can be hard to recognize the severity of these symptoms until they really escalate.
How Can You Treat Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue exists on a spectrum. Once you recognize concerning symptoms, it's important to try to intervene in taking care of yourself before things continue escalating.
Remember that preventative mental health treatment often beats waiting for a crisis. With that said, here are some tips for managing your well-being.
Set Healthy Boundaries
If you frequently overextend yourself, try to commit to saying no when you don't have the capacity. Keep in mind this may feel scary or even awkward at first.
But practicing this skill is imperative for your emotional well-being. You are only one person, and it isn't fair to you (or anyone else) to agree to things that will only perpetuate poor mental health.
How well are you taking care of your physical health? What about honoring your needs for rest, relaxation, and pleasure?
If you are lacking in these departments, the symptoms of compassion fatigue will likely worsen. Self-care is an integral part of ensuring that you can cope with complicated feelings as they arise.
Be Mindful of Perfectionism
Control and perfectionism are often the heart of compassion fatigue. You may place enormous pressure on yourself to "handle it all," even when you no longer have the emotional capacity.
Try to be aware of your perfectionism triggers and not let them derail your progress. It may be helpful to practice asking for help and getting comfortable allowing others to support you.
Take Routine Breaks
Whether it's taking five minutes to meditate during your workday or it's scheduling a vacation to decompress, breaks are imperative for your emotional well-being. So honor and cherish them accordingly.
Make it a point to check in with yourself regularly. Are you feeling drained? More stressed or reactive than usual? If so, it may be time to rest or disengage for a few minutes altogether.
Lean On Your Support System
Struggling with your feelings in isolation often makes them feel worse. When you withhold your thoughts and emotions, you limit the possibility for others to support you.
Instead, it can be helpful to challenge yourself to practice being vulnerable. For example, can you open up about what's going on with at least one safe person? Can you commit to sending a text or making a phone call to let a loved one know that you're having a hard time?
Seek Professional Support
Compassion fatigue symptoms may compound over time, and it can be challenging to work on the problem if you feel "too close" to it.
Therapy provides a more objective standpoint for recognizing and treating your symptoms. Moreover, it can offer a practical roadmap for managing potential triggers in the future.
Compassion fatigue can be a standalone problem, but it often coincides with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Unfortunately, the symptoms rarely go away on their own- you will need to take care of yourself and change how you cope with stress.
That said, compassion fatigue is treatable, and seeking professional support can make a tremendous difference in how you feel. At The Mental Health House, we are here to help you! Contact us today to learn more about what we offer.