Those who are in helping professions, such as teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, nurses, doctors, and mental health therapists all experience burnout at a higher level than the average American worker. Due to the common stressors of the job, such feelings are defined as compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue can be a result of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion from the demands of being a service provider. It is extremely common in today's post-pandemic society and is important to understand how we can regain productivity when dealing with this form of extreme burnout. To fully understand how we can move forward, we need to know what exactly compassion fatigue is and how it affects those who help society.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is the cost of caring for others or their emotional pain, resulting from their desire to relieve others' suffering. This can mainly affect care providers but can be common in others as well. Compassion fatigue can develop over time and be hard to spot. A few classic signs to look out for can be reduced empathy, feelings of being overwhelmed, emotional disconnect, and self-isolation.
Compassion fatigue should not be confused with burnout, as burnout is the slow onset of feelings that one’s work has little positive impact. In contrast, compassion fatigue happens when a professional becomes depleted from repeated exposure to another person's trauma. Essentially, the main difference between burnout and compassion fatigue is their origin. Specifically, compassion fatigue stems from dealing with trauma victims, and burnout originates from stress and being overworked.
How Compassion Fatigue Affects Service Providers
Compassion fatigue affects service providers the most as a result of compassion and empathy being the heart of their profession. Professionals who nurture, like healthcare workers and therapists, along with first responders like law enforcement and firefighters, are all professions that consistently face trauma on a day-to-day basis. When a service provider struggles with compassion fatigue, it then affects how they treat others, which is a prominent factor in their profession.
The symptoms can vary depending on the person, however, the most common symptoms of compassion fatigue include:
● Feeling detached, numb, or emotionally drained
● Feelings of helplessness or powerlessness in the face of suffering
● Increased anxiety, sadness, or irritability
● Feeling overwhelmed or exhausted
● Neglect of your own self-care
● Physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and upset stomach
● Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
How to Regain Productivity in a Post-Pandemic Society
Regaining productivity after suffering compassion fatigue is easier said than done. Additionally, as we come off the pandemic, it’s much harder to have a positive outlook when dealing with the aftermath. One way to help cope with compassion fatigue is practicing mindfulness and keeping track of your thoughts throughout the day. Another way is to establish a healthy personal care routine, as well as finding a support system.
Most importantly, we must focus on reestablishing our connection with empathy and compassion by reminding ourselves that it is still needed in this world. The cost of caring is sometimes high, and it's easy to get burned emotionally when constantly absorbing trauma. When we feel ourselves start to lose that connection, we need to take a step back to regain our productivity within the industry.
Source: Canadian Medical Association (2020) What is Compassion Fatigue?
Source: Simone Marie (2021) Compassion Fatigue is Real: 6 Ways to Cope