Everything You Need to Know about Compassion Fatigue
By Treneé Tunick, LCSW
Has caring for someone ever felt like a tidal wave that threatens to overtake you?
According to the American Bar Association:
Compassion fatigue is the cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effect of exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, combined with the strain and stress of everyday life. Compassion fatigue is also known as vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, second hand shock and secondary stress reaction.
Compassion fatigue is more a collection of symptoms rather than a disease. While initially used in healthcare settings, compassion fatigue can strike adults who are caring for their aging parents, parents caring for small children, and yes, healthcare workers, first responders, or others on the front line in a traumatic setting. Ignoring the symptoms of compassion fatigue can lead to frustration, burnout, their own health issues, stress, and anxiety.
Unfortunately, the quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the problem of compassion fatigue more widespread. Financial burdens, time deficits, and other restrictions have further complicated the tasks of providing care for individuals. No matter what group you or a loved one may fall under, I want to help my clients to recognize when they are suffering from such fatigue and find tools that will help to re-center them and restore emotional health.
Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue
What are the symptoms of compassion fatigue? Some symptoms may include:
- Feeling an undue burden for the suffering of others
- Feeling responsible for the suffering of others
- Loss of interest in recreational pursuits
- Bottling up of emotions
- Poor self-care
What does compassion fatigue look like across different demographics, especially during this pandemic?
Compassion Fatigue in Parents of Small Children
The closing of schools have led to far more hours of “family time,” leading to higher levels of stress and anxiety for parents/guardians as they care for their children while still trying to work and take care of other responsibilities. With less time to themselves and without the normal breaks in the day, parents can quickly find themselves with far less margin to respond to the needs of their children.
Compassion Fatigue in Caregivers of Adults
Limited resources have meant that the care of aging parents or relatives have fallen more squarely on the caregivers, while normal stress relieving outlets are diminished or unavailable. The caregivers may have more hurdles in taking care of banking, groceries, or other household chores for their loved ones as businesses have more restrictions or reduced hours.
Compassion Fatigue in Healthcare Workers
Healthcare workers are under unprecedented amounts of stress as more responsibilities have fallen on them. As the pandemic has limited visits to nursing home or assisted living facilities, workers may now having to provide more emotional and mental support to their patients in addition to physical care. Long hours and staff shortages have led to higher levels of burnout and stress.
Self-Care for Combatting Compassion Fatigue
When battling compassion fatigue, especially during this pandemic, I encourage my clients to embrace alone time as much as possible, even if it’s for limited amounts of time. I also help them to embrace that inevitable limitations on their productivity during such a season. It’s unrealistic to think you can stick to former levels of meal planning, chores, errands, and recreation as before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt your daily routines to include self-care.
An exercise I like to encourage my clients to do is to ask themselves, what do I enjoy doing? What brings me to life? It’s hard to focus on a question like that when life circumstances are pressing down on you. Stress brings on tunnel vision, but by asking that question, it helps my clients to take a step back and put their circumstances in perspective.
Here are some simple ways you can step back into the things that bring you life:
- Stay rested
- Practice mindful breathing
- Find creative outlets
- Mentally prepare yourself before a tough week and adjust your expectations
- Share your feelings with a trusted friend
- Schedule an appointment with a counselor
For me, journaling helps keep me centered during a stressful season. Journaling helps me to reflect and process what’s going on in my life, but through the quarantine, that simple joy fell by the wayside as I was consumed with trying to regulate family life. I had to intentionally set aside time for a ritual which was beneficial to me. And that’s what I encourage my clients to do to. Even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes, it’s worth it.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone; thousands of families across the nation battle compassion fatigue. And while the circumstances you are in may not be quickly resolved, by being willing to engage in some simple self-care practices, you will be able to regain your sense of self and keep moving forward.
Treneé specializes in supporting caregivers through the unique strain of caring for loved ones. If you find yourself in this situation and could benefit from a caring, skilled perspective, schedule an appointment with her today!