You know it when you feel it. The world seems to be resting on your shoulders, and you are stretched so thin that you seem as sturdy as the tattered pages of your jam-packed planner. Throughout the day, you’ll continue to give and give to those you care about, but it may feel less fulfilling. This is known as compassion fatigue.
Think about it; a cord plugged into an outlet can still light the lamp to which it’s connected, even if it’s a bit ragged with wires poking through the plastic covering. Would we consider this lamp cord to be efficient? What if the cord was not plugged into a lamp but instead into rows of hospital beds to provide power for heart monitors and life-saving equipment?
When serving others, there are profound effects that can present themselves as burnout over time. Burnout typically occurs from continuously being overwhelmed by responsibilities and the amount of them. Compassion fatigue can be seen as a type of burnout; it’s the feeling that you have no more empathy to give. When individuals witness trauma or learn of suffering, the emotions that follow can build over long periods. If left unattended, they can increase and ultimately separate individuals from their ability to care for themselves and others.
Compassion fatigue builds slowly and is influenced by what we observe, read, and the duties we perform. It can progress until an individual is exhausted of energy and needs a lifestyle or career change in extreme cases.
Feelings associated with compassion fatigue:
- Exhausted psychologically and physically
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
- Irritable, sadness, or numbness
- Detachment or decreased pleasure in activities
- Connecting to the suffering of others and feeling anger towards events or people causing it
- Blame towards yourself and having thoughts of not having done enough to help people
- A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
Taking time out of your day to practice self-care can make all this difference. This could be taking planned breaks from work, exercising regularly, being present in your emotions, taking a step back when feeling overwhelmed, or seeking professional help. Here are some additional ways to maintain wellness and improve self-care:
- Follow healthy routines, such as reserving time for sleep and rest, enjoying nutritious meals, being active, and connecting more with friends. Activities should replenish and rejuvenate you.
- Avoid “information overload.” Pay attention to how stressful or traumatic information affects you.
- Be in the present moment and practice gratitude towards positive things, relationships, and opportunities.
- Focus on what’s in your control and build awareness of unrealistic expectations about changing something beyond your control.
Becoming aware of the signs of symptoms associated with compassion fatigue, getting support, and taking action to inform others can improve the wellness of our communities. We are all working towards a common goal, but to move forward efficiently, we must prioritize self-preservation.
GSACPC’s Authentic Leadership Community (ALC) appreciates the compassion that resonates throughout our Girl Scout network and always provides support and resources. We invite you to learn more and be part of this group that can introduce you to self-care tactics for Girl Scouts and personally.
We hope these tips help you become aware of compassion fatigue and help you rejuvenate yourself or anyone in your care. For professional support and help, reach out to your doctor.
Source: Thurrott, Stephanie. 2021. Watch for These Key Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue. Banner Health Teach Me.