Compassion Fatigue: Is Caring Too Much a Bad Thing? by LaShon Sawyer

Are you the ‘go-to person’ for your family and friends?  Are you responsible for caring for younger family members or aging adults? Do these responsibilities leave you feeling drained, exhausted, […]

July 28, 2017 // EYEJ // No Comments // Posted in Blog

Are you the ‘go-to person’ for your family and friends?  Are you responsible for caring for younger family members or aging adults? Do these responsibilities leave you feeling drained, exhausted, overwhelmed or maybe irritable?

Caring about our families, communities and the next generation of young people, such as the youth involved in EYEJ (Empowering Youth Exploring Justice), without the proper balance of personal wellness activities can be stressful.  So stressful in fact that we can cause damage to our mental health, physical health, and spiritual health is left unmanaged.  As a result we run the risk of experiencing compassion fatigue.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is an emotional and/or physical state experienced by volunteers, helping people and care givers.  It is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped.  As a result, a secondary traumatic stress can exist for the volunteer (Figley).

Causes

In most cases, compassion fatigue develops over time.  Repeated exposure to suffering, helplessness, or other people experiencing traumatic events are common triggers.  Also, individuals consistently putting the needs of others before their own can increase the onset of fatigue.

Symptoms

Brain Energy Support Team identified some symptoms of compassion fatigue.  Each person experiences fatigue in different ways.  The presence or the severity of these systems may vary between people.

copmassion fatigue

Have I experienced compassion fatigue?

ProQOL.org offers a survey for individuals to identify the positive aspects of helping (compassion satisfaction and the negative aspects of helping (compassion fatigue).  This survey in no way substitutes for medical treatment or advice.

How do I manage my compassion fatigue?

The first step to managing any level of compassion fatigue is to develop or increase awareness about its potential impact on our lives.  Additionally, we can seek support for family, friends, colleagues, or positive sources in our lives to begin to set our own wellness as a priority for ourselves.   Improving our wellness can include practices such as eating healthy, regular exercise, journaling, getting enough sleep, taking breaks from volunteering and making time to enjoy a hobby.

What does compassion fatigue have to do with social justice?

Being a social justice advocate or ally means using your time, energy and resources to support actions and conversations around the concepts of human rights and equality. This work can have a heavy emotional toll, particularly for those who have experienced injustice in their own lives. Systemic and cultural changes don’t happen overnight, so we need to maintain balance and emotional health to make long term impact. By recognizing the potential for compassion fatigue, we protect ourselves from burnout and frustration – so we can continue to inspire, empower and care for the next generation of changemakers.

by LaShon Sawyer – Ph.D, LISW-S

EYEJ Board Director-at-Large
Director of Online Education at Case Western Reserve University