Compassion fatigue is called a state of great tiredness and exhaustion that is produced from two reasons: a deep empathy with others, on the one hand, and the intention or action to alleviate the suffering of those other people, on the other.
Pandemic fatigue; what it is, how it manifests itself and how to treat it
In general, this problem is talked about (and is considered a syndrome) to refer to what on many occasions the health personnel suffer, who faces dramatic situations on a daily basis and often feels emotionally overwhelmed. Something that became notorious with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects.
However, compassion fatigue can affect anyone, regardless of what they do in the workplace or professional. It happens that compassion fatigue is, in other words, “the price paid to help people who suffer“And that is something that is available to anyone.
Symptoms of compassion fatigue or empathy burnout
The expression compassion fatigue came into use about three decades ago. From the first moment he was related to ‘burnout’ – being burned from work -, since he identified himself as a problem caused by work effort, particularly in the healthcare environment.
The particularity of this fatigue is that it derives from sympathy and sorrow for the person who suffers, and from the intense desire to alleviate their discomfort, which many times does not occur. That is why the problem is also known as empathy burnout syndrome.
As with most conditions associated with stress, compassion fatigue causes psychological and physical symptoms. Those in the first group usually take the form of anxiety, dissociation (a kind of disconnection from reality or “emotional dullness”), irritability, and sleep disturbances or nightmares.
Physical symptoms – in addition to the feeling of exhaustion itself – are often: headache, weight gain or loss, nausea and dizziness. Fainting and hearing problems also occur in severe cases.
A third group of symptoms appears almost as a consequence of the first two: the psychosocial consequences. Abuse of psychotropic drugs or other substances, uncontrolled eating, cynicism and the desire to spend less time with patients are other frequent effects on health personnel who suffer from this problem.
And who are the people most likely to suffer from it? In particular, those who dedicate little care to themselves – a fairly common trait in those who care a lot about others – and those who have some trauma from their unresolved past, especially if it is related in some way to the situation in which they are living. trying to help.
Other risk factors for compassion fatigue include difficulties with manage stress and, in the cases of health personnel or other work activities (firefighters, psychologists, social workers, etc.), lack of job satisfaction.
Overloading the emotional management system
The point is, as mentioned, the risk of compassion fatigue is not unique to those who perform those jobs. It can also appear in those people who “automatically and by inertia take too much emotional care of their environment and end up paying very high bills” thus.
This is how the psychologist Aurora López, director of More Life Psychologists, who emphasizes that, when this happens, “the problems of others become your problems“.” You overload your emotional management system – he adds -, you assume a role that weighs heavily on you and that is also very difficult to abandon. ”
These people, the specialist points out, invest high energy levels in the people around him. They worry about knowing how they are, what they need, how they can help them. This is not in itself a bad thing, of course, unless certain limits are exceeded.
What are those limits? Well, these people, based on their emotional commitment and in their desire to “check that everything is okay”, seek and receive too much information from others, they get too involved in their stories, are “contaminated” and end up suffering for them.
Somehow, they become “problem solving machines” for other people. They do not know how to be absent, they do not accept the fact that they are not always available. All this results in stress and discomfort that wears them down and leads them to feel overwhelmed, anxious and always worried, in addition to a permanent feeling of fatigue.
Moreover, their interpersonal relationships become unbalanced, because at some point they will feel that they give their family and friends more than they receive. This often weakens self-esteem and even leads to fed up with social contact. And in addition, some of the symptoms already mentioned may occur for those who suffer from compassion fatigue as a result of their work activity.
What to do to fix it
As the predisposition to be attentive to the problems and needs of others is positive in itself, and also in many people it arises almost naturally, “automatically”, many times it is difficult to see a problem there.
However, noticing some of the aforementioned negative consequences can be a way to detect excess which may be a cause of compassion fatigue.
The psychologist Aurora López proposes a mental exercise that can help to reverse it: “Imagine that the people around you are swimmers in a pool that they have under control but sometimes they can have mishaps and need your help.”
Faced with such a situation, he raises two options. The first is to give, from outside the pool, suggestions and advice about how you could solve this mishap in the best possible way. The second is to jump into the water and “try to solve the problem ‘in situ'”.
The most appropriate option is the first. The reflection, emphasizes the specialist, should be: “This is not mine. Although I love that person, I am not going to merge with your problem and with your emotions“That does not mean not helping, of course, but it does mean fulfilling the role that corresponds, without pretending to take charge of the welfare of others.
As an example, López raises this possibility: if a loved one is unwell because of a couple breakdown, the healthy and advisable attitude is to accompany, listen, say “I’m here for whatever you need”, and indeed stand and support.
Instead, the equivalent of “jumping into the pool” to try to solve problems would be to write or call the ex-partner to ask for explanations or curse, to give advice to the friend about how to act or what decisions to make, to pressure him to get well and stop being sad, etc.
That way, not only will you avoid compassion fatigue in the long term, but your bonds will also be healthier and more equitable, which will contribute to your self-esteem and general well-being not only for yourself but also for those around you.
If you don’t want to miss any of our items, subscribe to our newsletters