Are you familiar with compassion fatigue?
Let's take a look at this little-known ailment that is affecting more and more people.
1. What is compassion fatigue?
As the name suggests, compassion fatigue is the result of prolonged exposure to stress induced by compassion. This condition translates into a state of exhaustion, causing a person to become physically, psychologically and emotionally dysfunctional.
Compassion fatigue affects people who are confronted with someone else's suffering daily. These individuals:
- Put themselves in the shoes of the suffering person
- Make the other person’s ailments and emotions their own
- Lose their sense of objectivity
- Allow their worries to overwhelm them
2. Who is at risk?
- Healthcare workers: doctors, nurses, other professionals
- People whose occupations regularly expose them to extreme suffering: humanitarian workers, journalists
- The parents or caregivers of a gravely ill person
- The general public when fed a daily diet of bad news by the media
3. What are the symptoms?
There are a number of red flags that can lead to a compassion fatigue diagnosis. In general, people suffering from this ailment are in a state of extreme tension and anxiety. Their work performance drops, their personal relationships deteriorate, their family life suffers and their personality changes.
In some cases, the deterioration is gradual and can lead to other health problems down the road.
Symptoms of compassion fatigue include:
- Anger, irritability
- Sustained fatigue despite enough sleep
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares
- Memory gaps
- Difficulty making decisions
- Struggling to feel hope and happiness
- Loss of interest in activities that usually provide enjoyment
Compassion fatigue can even lead to depression.
4. What can be done?
People who suffer from compassion fatigue are advised to:
- Spend time with loved ones (family, friends, etc.)
- Eat well
- Engage in activities that are fun and satisfying
- Stick to a restorative sleep routine
- Exercise regularly to relieve stress and replenish energy levels
- Take time to relax
- Put things in perspective and see the value in what they do
Nothing helps? Then it’s time to turn to your family doctor or a qualified healthcare professional; they can help you get your life back on an eve keel.
Although compassion fatigue is closely akin to a burn-out, its onset is subtle. So listen to yourself and know your limits!