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Compassion Fatigue: What it is and How to Manage it? Part 1

In this new world we’re living, the need for kindness and compassion, both for ourselves and others, is all the more crucial. Whether it’s lending an ear to someone struggling, picking up groceries for someone at a higher risk, or helping to take care of a sick family member, most of us have been in or can relate to these situations. 

Some days it can seem like everyone wants something from you, which can be incredibly overwhelming and draining. With the amount of energy, it takes to process our own experiences and continue functioning as the global pandemic of coronavirus continues, we may find ourselves having a lower capacity for other individual’s needs. It’s important to check in with ourselves and ask ourselves how we’re feeling and what we may need more or less of. It’s completely normal for our own need for emotional support to begin outweighing our capacity for kindness. 

As these patterns persist over a period of time, it’s not uncommon to reach compassion fatigue or burnout. Compassion fatigue could take the form of feeling numb or overburdened in response to other’s pain. It can also present itself as feelings of anxiety, sadness, and low self-worth. These emotional responses do not make you unkind or uncaring, they make you human. 

The good news is compassion fatigue can be easily treated with stress-reduction techniques in the form of mediation, therapy, or mindfulness. The most difficult part of treating compassion fatigue is identifying that’s what we’re struggling with in the first place. We all have the ability to show up for other people when needed, as long as we take care of ourselves in both a preventative and reactive way. “Empathy is a skill we can all strengthen through effort.” 

The first step is shifting our perspective and externalizing the person’s pain. “Researchers found that individuals who feel someone’s pain may be more likely experience distress than those who think about how the person is feeling.” The main difference between these two perspectives is whether or not we put ourselves in the individual’s shoes and allow our bodies to actually feel as the suffering person does. When we begin to take on the pain of others as our own, we decrease our ability to effectively help the person through their personal struggle. 

When someone’s struggle feels too big or too immense to comprehend, we typically feel the need to show up for them in some grand way. However, these big struggles typically take time to work through. By showing up in a big way initially, it’ll likely be too overwhelming to maintain in addition to your everyday responsibilities and individual needs. It’s more important to continuously show up in small ways throughout someone’s struggle than to show up intensely in the beginning and burnout before the journey’s halfway over. A 2017 study showed our acts of kindness do not have to be huge for others to feel nurtured. “Results showed that the participants saw human connection as more meaningful expressions of care than receiving lavish gifts.” That means simply your presence, whether in person, over text, or on the phone/facetime, is the most effective way to support someone through their suffering.

As we continue to move through the pain and suffering caused by this ongoing pandemic, it is more important than ever to show up for each other and ourselves. Part two of this blog post will highlight ways to do just that. 

If you’ve found yourself struggling with compassion fatigue, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled counselors in Chicago today!

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