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Mental Mondays: What Is Compassion Fatigue And How To Control It

Mental Mondays: What Is Compassion Fatigue And How To Control It



conomic chaos, trauma, health complications, heartbreak, fear. These are just a tiny fraction of the pandemonium that constantly rips across the world. On a global scale, humanity desperately needs compassion, and anyone who has chosen to passionately give this rare gift must also remember to fill their tanks or risk being parked by the wayside.

While this is often directed towards caring professionals, any caregiver could fall victim. You might have a sick mother who is your direct responsibility. Or perhaps, you’re helping a loved one living with a disability. The healer also needs healing, you know? When we are continually exposed to the trauma and suffering of others, there’s a high chance of experiencing compassion fatigue.

What is compassion fatigue?

In simple terms, compassion fatigue occurs when a caregiver becomes negatively affected by the constant exposure to the pain of others that they have no more empathy to give. Empathy is an essential trait every caregiver should have. It helps to see things from the perspective of the recipient, but if not curtailed, could lead to compassion fatigue.

According to Wikipedia, the term was first coined in 1992 by Carla Joinson to describe the negative impact hospital nurses were experiencing as a result of their repeated, daily exposure to patient emergencies.

Difference between burnout and compassion fatigue

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Compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout because they share similar symptoms. While burnout usually occurs due to a heavy workload/responsibilities, compassion fatigue — a form of secondary traumatic stress — happens mostly from constantly serving others without boundaries. Although you might be passionate about helping people, there’s a tendency to become inundated with the trauma of others with time.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue

• Needlessly blaming yourself with negative could-have-been thoughts. You feel you could have done better to help, even when you’re obviously exhausted from doing your best.

• Dwelling on the thoughts of the suffering of others, that it starts to affect your mood and daily life. The lines between your work life (or your caregiving) and your personal life are blurred.

• The intrusive thoughts and experiences are starting to change your value system, thought pattern, and/or spirituality.

• Suddenly becoming angry with outbursts at the slightest provocation, or you’ve become numb and unresponsive to events around you.

• Mental and physical fatigue.

• Sleep and appetite problems.

• A person experiencing compassionate fatigue tends to veer through the path of addiction.

Here are the four phases of compassion fatigue

Generally, there are four stages of compassion fatigue that many caregivers experience.

#1. Keen phase

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At this phase, the caregiver is eager to help. They put in the work and are passionate about helping others. This includes working round the clock and being emotionally invested in this cause to effect a change.

#2. Mental exodus phase

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You notice the bubble of your eagerness and passion has burst thanks to the pin of exhaustion. At this stage, you start complaining and avoiding conversations about work. Following that, you may begin to withdraw from your loved ones and stop taking care of yourself too.

#3. Outburst stage

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“Are you coming out to dinner tonight?” Gwen’s husband peeked in through her door as he asked. “Close the door now. Didn’t you hear me when I said I want to be left alone?” This is often the reaction typical of someone at this phase of compassion fatigue. They isolate themselves from loved ones and become easily irritated.

#4. Morose stage

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Have you met a nurse so cold you wondered why they were doing the job anyway? They are probably experiencing this last stage of compassion fatigue. It turns into anger at patients and everyone else. They become short-fused and lackadaisical and hardly care about saving the world anymore. At this stage, the individual has no more love to give.

These healthy tips might help you rise above compassion fatigue…

#1. Meditation

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The root of this kind of stress is an unsettling feeling that wells up from within. Prayers, meditating and relaxing techniques have been found to stave off compassion fatigue.

#2. Prioritize self

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Self-love is also knowing when to look inwards and tend to oneself. Think of ways to practice self-care that will revive you, and starve off the fatigue. Doing this unlocks a new level of passion and fulfillment.

#3. Get knowledge

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Some companies trauma train their employees, and this helps them notice the signs of compassion fatigue when it starts to lurk and equips them to nip it in the bud. They also avoid work overload and provide adequate resources to make work easier.

In a situation where your company hasn’t come up to speed on the importance of mental health, take the responsibility to gain knowledge about compassion fatigue and other mental health issues to help yourself better. Knowledge is power.

#4. Set boundaries

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When next you’re tempted to forgo off days or take on extra shifts, remember when you’re relaxed and happy, it’s a better choice for all parties involved. You’re kinder to your clients or loved ones and more productive. Consciously fight the empathic urge to take the trauma of others into other aspects of life.

#5. Get help

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There are correctional facilities, support groups, and therapy designed to ward off the effects of compassion fatigue. If these intrusive thoughts and stress have become overwhelming, speak to someone ASAP. Resist self-medicating, especially with hard drugs, as it can further deteriorate your mental health. Compassion fatigue can lead to clinical depression and other stress-induced mental health conditions.

Do we cease to have compassion?

The answer is no! To effectively care for another person or even animals, compassion and empathy can’t be left out. However, your ability to achieve an equilibrium will make all the difference.

Compassion is at the heart of every little thing we do. It is the dearest quality we possess. Yet all too often it can be cast aside with consequences too tragic to speak of. To lose our compassion, we lose what it is to be human.” ~Unknown

Featured Image: Titi Asu | Instagram 

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