Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

Before COVID-19, those who provided care to another were susceptible to compassion fatigue. As the pandemic continues, therapists, social workers, and counselors are affected by the stress of trying to provide the care their clients need while navigating an ever-changing landscape of uncertainty. Recognizing the signs of compassion fatigue can help prevent or encourage a growing trend among care workers.

Compassion Fatigue 

Another name for compassion fatigue is a secondary traumatic stress disorder. Secondary trauma or compassion fatigue is innate for a care provider position. Perhaps, you recognized a disruptive pattern taking hold of your life. Assess how you feel about your life and work. While assessing and processing your emotional and physical well-being, you should also consider any emotions or behaviors that mirror post-traumatic stress disorder. Why? Because those who administer mental health or medical care are at an increased risk of finding themselves trying to cope with feeling their energy is gone. 

Often, a person who chooses a field where they provide care does so because they are empathetic to others. While being compassionate is a valuable trait, caring can come with harmful consequences. When you open yourself up to people, you also allow the pain of others to become a part of your life. The tendency to keep a client’s heartbreak, trauma, or emotional distress can create your trauma. Eventually, you may find yourself physically, mentally, or spiritually drained while at work or home. 

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

Many psychotherapists, social workers, or counseling professionals are exposed to secondary traumatic stress disorder, but only a subset will experience compassion fatigue. Some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue include: 

  • Isolation

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Dissociation

  • Sleep disturbances 

  • Physical illnesses

  • Confusion

  • Helplessness

  • Strained relationships

  • The inability to separate your professional and personal life

  • Mental or physical decline

  • Decreased work performance

  • Feeling you can’t provide the care your client needs

If you notice one or more of these symptoms apply to how you feel, you should seek help for your emotions. Therapists are in a unique position of being more sensitive to the emotions and needs of others. Luckily, compassion fatigue is treatable and preventable. 

Causes of Compassion Fatigue

Even the most dedicated therapists are at risk of becoming exhausted from their work. However, you may be at a higher risk of experiencing compassion fatigue if you:

  • Don’t take your specified days off from work

  • Pick up extra shifts or increase your office hours

  • Neglect your self-care routine

Regardless of whether you’re providing care for one case of trauma or accumulating the effects of emotional residue, you may not recognize the stress these sessions place on your mind and body.

Compassion Fatigue vs. Burnout

Burnout and compassion fatigue are not the same thing. While you may know this, you may fail to realize your feelings of burnout are secondary fatigue stress. Burnout refers to the stress you feel at work regularly. You may not recognize the symptoms of burnout immediately because burnout is a gradual process.

On the other hand, when you absorb clients’ emotions, often forgetting to incorporate self-care to help you cope with those emotions, you may be experiencing compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue isn’t a gradual process. Instead, you may suddenly feel the same as a client with post-traumatic stress disorder. As a therapist, you take in a lot of daily, making it crucial to take care of yourself.

The Importance of Self-Care 

Self-care is a vital part of everyone’s life. So why would your life be any different? To help prevent or treat compassion fatigue, you can benefit from taking a deeper look into your inner well-being. Maybe you notice a lack of self-care activities. You can take care of your mental, physical, or spiritual well-being by:

  • Setting boundaries or limits:

    Listen to your body and mind when you form your client list for the week. Ask yourself how many clients can you handle, and then don’t take on more appointments. When you set limits, you can also be at peace with knowing which clients are beyond your range of expertise and not feeling guilty if you refer them to someone else. 

  • Practice mindfulness:

    Whether you journal, focus on your breath, walk outside, or pray, you can benefit from clearing your mind.

  • Take care of your body:

    Proper nutrition, sleep, and physical activity provide the same benefits to you as they do to your clients. Be a model to your patients.

  • Engage in therapy:

    Attorneys have their own attorneys for legal issues. Doctors see other doctors for medical care. You should have a therapist to talk to about your emotions. 

Compassion fatigue can affect anyone who provides care to others. Even if you think you’re not susceptible, pay attention to your emotional and physical health. As COVID-19 continues and clients share their trauma, you may be at an increased risk for compassion fatigue. You are vulnerable to the emotional residue your clients leave with you. If you notice symptoms of compassion fatigue, step back and assess what changes you need to make to help you address your emotions. Self-care is vital to your overall wellness. Try incorporating mindfulness, limits, boundaries, or therapy into your routine. If you are a therapist looking for a therapist or wishing to refer a client out, SokyaHealth can cater to your schedule and needs. You can experience wellness wherever you are with our telehealth services. After you contact us, we will pair you with a wellness expert that fits your needs. To learn more about our services, call (877) 840-6956.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

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