You’re a helper. You take pride in your work with others. You know that when you show up, you impact lives in a positive way. But do you find there’s no energy left for yourself?
You’re a helper. You take pride in your work with others. You know that when you show up, you impact lives in a positive way.
Nothing can beat that. You can’t be replaced by a system of automation because you are connecting on a human level.
Providing that connection requires empathy, of which you have a never-ending well. You look into the eyes of those you help and feel their pain, you connect with their story. In some cases, you are a part of their story.
But then, you start to notice that you’re more tired when you come home. You binge a TV show just to disconnect from the feelings of the day.
Even your energy for self-care starts to plummet. You decline invitations for social outings because it’s just too much. Your friend texts you about a problem she’s having at work, but you don’t seem to have any energy to respond.
If any of those feelings feel familiar to you, you might be experiencing compassion fatigue.
Definition of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue focuses on those individuals who provide support to those suffering with physical and emotional pain—crisis and trauma counselors, Red Cross workers, nurses, doctors, and other caregivers who themselves often become victim to secondary traumatic stress disorder (STSD) or “compassion fatigue” as a result of helping or wanting to help a traumatized person (Figley, 1995).
That definition, while still relevant, doesn’t account for the rapid spread and accessibility of information we have available at our fingertips that can sometimes be harmful and harder to anticipate or avoid.
Now, it’s not only healthcare professionals and caregivers who suffer from compassion fatigue, but also those who watch the news or spend time scrolling their social media feed.
Every day, we’re exposed to the suffering of others. It’s only human to feel empathy, but as part of our coping mechanism, we can become numb to the overwhelming tragedy and trauma.
Our Personal Experience and Solution
Sarah Hill, CEO of Healium, began searching for a solution to her own compassion fatigue after experiencing panic attacks and sleepless nights from her work as a news reporter.
“Hours of listening to a police scanner, seeing dead bodies, covering conflict, natural disasters, and stepping inside the stories of families who lost children weakened me in a way I didn’t expect,” Hill says.
Compassion fatigue is not a disease, but rather, a symptom of stress. The first step in managing your symptoms is to care for yourself as much as you care for those around you.
As helpers, we tend to prioritize others but this can leave your tank feeling empty. Self-care isn’t a trend. It isn’t selfish.
Just like the flight attendant asks you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others, self-care allows you to show up with your best self so you can continue to give compassionate care to others.
Five Tips for Healing from Compassion Fatigue
Here are five self-care actions that you can take today to start healing from compassion fatigue.
1 — Limit your media intake or choose a medium that you can control. For example, read the newspaper instead of turning on the TV for updates.
2 — Journal your feelings at the end of the day to unpack your thoughts. If you’re not sure where to start, try this prompt: List three things that happened today that you’re grateful for.
4 — Speak with a licensed counselor. There is no shame in seeking professional help. Telemedicine is making it easier than ever to connect. Additionally, many counselors are open to offering a sliding scale to pay for services. You just have to ask.
5 — Establish or reassess your personal boundaries. Sometimes, we have to let people know what our triggers are or what we will allow into our lives. If you have a friend who frequently starts the conversation with, “did you hear about this on the news?” now is a good time to gently let her know what you’re comfortable with for conversation.
Compassion is an important part of what makes you special. It’s what allows you to help others and improve their lives. Don’t give up hope.
Start shifting some of that compassion to yourself and begin to see the positive changes in your life.