Have you ever felt overwhelmed and emotionally drained from trying to carry the pain or suffering of another person? If so, you were likely experiencing compassion fatigue. But what is compassion fatigue?
While you might not have heard this phrase before, at some point in your life, you have probably felt it on some level.
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What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue can be described as the cost of caring for others in emotional pain. It happens when you try to take on someone else’s suffering as your own or provide support that extends beyond simple empathy and can eventually take a exhausting toll on you.
But fear not! There are ways you can still be a caring person without always running yourself into the ground.
Signs of Having Compassion Fatigue (And How to Deal With Them)
Here are four signs you have compassion fatigue and ways to manage each one.
1. Turning Others’ Problems Into Your Own
Do you wake up in the morning and instantly feel emotionally drained over worrying if a particular friend or family member is okay and then trying to think of ways to help? This may be a sign you are going through compassion fatigue.
It is natural to worry about the well-being of someone you care for. However, when you cannot focus on anything else and feel the need to constantly text or call that person to check in, it is best to take a step back.
It can be easy to fixate on trying to help someone else through a tough time, but when their problems are always on your mind, this leads to compassion fatigue, and you will feel a sense of heaviness.
The next time you find yourself feeling anxious about this other person’s pain and pondering what you can do to make their day better, consider these suggestions:
Take a Break
Take a few minutes to sit in silence and quiet your mind. By taking time to do a personal check in, you might realize you were functioning at a low frequency where you were full of stress.
Take a Breath, Literally or Figuratively
Meditating can clear your head and even help you think of new ways to approach your friend’s situation without overextending yourself. You might also consider starting your day listening to positive music or cooking a healthy breakfast to take your mind off the need to solve a loved one’s struggles.
On one hand, it is tempting to want to rescue someone in need, but obsessing over helping someone else is not productive for your own life.
Shift Your Focus
To manage compassion fatigue, consider focusing on other aspects of your own life or finding new activities to diversify your time. Try not to overindulge in stressing over their situation or being a problem-solver for them. When you give yourself space away from your loved one’s pain, those emotions that accompany compassion fatigue will not overwhelm you. You will feel more refreshed, like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
2. You’re Lashing Out
If you find that you are overly irritable and easily annoyed with others, you are likely feeling the exhaustion of focusing too much on your friend’s problems.
Remember this: Signs of compassion fatigue reveal themselves in how you treat the people in your life who are not going through a difficult time.
When you are constantly scared or worried about a friend in need, you can feel burned out. You might find yourself overreacting or being rash towards family or coworkers. Neglecting the other people in your life who care about you or treating them poorly stems from having pent up frustration and stress. It takes a lot of strength to be experiencing compassion fatigue while still going through the motions of life.
By finding outlets to release bottled up grievances and anxiety, whether it is physical activity or deep conversations, you will find you are less emotionally volatile and will treat others with care.
Those with compassion fatigue find the following suggestions helpful in keeping them from lashing out:
Don’t Lash Out. Work Out!
To flush out your own feelings and deplete toxic energy, consider going for a run or participating in a workout class. A kickboxing session is a good way to release any aggression, and taking your anger out on a punching bag will keep you from exploding at a spouse, family member, or other friend. Getting your body moving will give you a rush of endorphins and allow you to feel newly rejuvenated.
Talk It Out
When you are trying to carry so much of someone else’s pain on your own shoulders, it is a good idea to have someone to confide in. This should be someone you trust, like a loyal family member or a therapist. Voicing aloud how carrying someone else’s struggles makes you feel is really beneficial for clearing your head.
Write It Out
Journaling is another way to purge negative thoughts and freely express anything that is bothering you. When you are able to get heavy emotions off your chest, you can spend more time focusing on uplifting activities or thoughts.
3. You’re Emotionally Hopeless
When you have compassion fatigue, there are days where you are so upset over your friend’s suffering that you lack the energy to do anything and operate at a low vibration. These negative feelings are amplified because you really want to help this person and steer them toward a solution, but you actually have no decision-making power
Think about it this way: When you are dealing with your own stresses, you are able to take action, but when it comes to someone else’s difficulties, you cannot force them to make any choices. This is what leads to feeling emotionally hopeless and drained, but there are solutions to this too:
Let Go of Control
You have to let go of any expectation of your friend or family member making a change in response to something you suggest. They just might not be ready yet. You can still offer advice or give potential solutions, but by releasing your assumptions they will change, you will not feel disappointed or defeated.
Give Yourself Room to Feel
When you are feeling compassion fatigue, it is beneficial to allow yourself to have a good cry. It is exhausting trying to always be strong for a friend who is in pain, so giving yourself the freedom to break down and sob can feel very cathartic.
Get Your Z’s
The amount of sleep you are getting plays an important role in your emotional well-being too. When you are always concerned with the troubles of a loved one, you will likely experience many sleepless nights, and when your brain is tired, you might say and do things that do not always make sense.
Consider using a sleep aid like melatonin or relaxing sounds to help get more rest. Even squeezing in a quick twenty-minute nap after your work day can make a huge difference in your energy levels and your emotions. Giving your mind and body a sufficient amount of rest will replenish you so that you are able to make the right life decisions and provide insightful advice.
4. You Seek Unhealthy Habits
If you are always trying to be an empathetic ear while attempting to take your friend’s pain away, you will become fatigued and worn out. Feeling depleted from harboring too much of someone else’s anguish can make you turn to other vices. It is intensely difficult to be the keeper of someone else’s pain, so it is tempting to want to find unhealthy ways to feel good.
Perhaps you find yourself eating junk food late at night when you would normally be fast asleep. Or maybe you have started gambling or trying out illicit substances as a way to have moments of fun and distract your mind. When you are emotionally desperate, you may be grasping at toxic activities that bring fleeting joy. This is a sign of compassion fatigue. Try these suggestions to manage this symptom.
Find a More Positive Outlet
When you find yourself tempted by negative activities, turn your focus on something positive instead. Consider volunteering at a food bank or maybe even offering to be a dog walker. Sometimes you have to take the spotlight off someone’s negative situation and shine a light on more productive or inspiring activities.
Find Your (Like-Minded) People
Another approach to alleviating this symptom of compassion fatigue is to consider joining a support group. It does not necessarily have to be a community centered around coping with pain and struggling, but it could be a Bible study group or networking group. Being surrounded by like-minded people can be invigorating, and you might even find an ally who can sympathize with feeling compassion fatigue and teach you new resources.
Instead of reaching for that dessert at midnight, consider listening to a new podcast or audiobook. With so many podcast topics and YouTube videos out there, you are sure to find useful guidance. There is a lot of strength in knowing you are not alone in what you are experiencing. When you find camaraderie among a new group of people or hear a quote in a video that really resonates with you, it can change your whole perspective on life. You will be able to give up unhealthy habits and put that energy toward valuable learning experiences.
It is good to be caring and want to help others. Empathy strengthens social bonds and helps us work together to address social wrongs. But unfortunately, being constantly concerned about the state of friends and loved ones can also come with negative side effects in other behavior.
However, if you start by identifying those signs and symptoms that you are going through compassion fatigue, you can use the suggestions in this article to turn those emotions into more positive and productive events.
Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com