07 May How Your EAP Can Help With Compassion Fatigue
What is Compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue, also referred to as empathy fatigue, refers to the emotional and physical stress caused by caring for others who are experiencing emotional pain. Exposure to a traumatized individual can cause secondary traumatic stress and cumulative burnout, where it becomes difficult to handle the daily pressures of a typical working environment due to physical or mental exhaustion.
due to the global pandemic and the resulting changes for so many people, many outside of caregiving professions are beginning to experience signs of compassion fatigue.
According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, “The origins of compassion fatigue most likely took hold during our formative years. Surviving a dysfunctional childhood aids in creating behaviors and patterns that can lead to high levels of compassion fatigue in caregiving. Studies show that children who suffer Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as alcoholism, physical abuse or mental abuse, are at risk for future violence victimization, chronic health conditions, low quality of life and even early death. When we are put in the position of caring for others at an early age, we learn to put the needs of others before our own needs. Additionally, we grow up lacking strong personal boundaries, experience an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, and carry the unresolved trauma within.”
Who does it affect?
Compassion fatigue has sometimes been referred to as “the cost of care”, because of the professions traditionally impacted. It affects people in many caregiving professions or personal situations. Anyone who is in a caregiving situation can be affected by compassion fatigue, but it is most commonly experienced by healthcare workers, emergency service workers, community service workers (such as social workers), and first responders.
As the National Institutes of Health puts it, “The negative effects of providing care are aggravated by the severity of the traumatic material to which the caregiver is exposed, such as direct contact with victims, particularly when the exposure is of a graphic nature. This places certain occupations, such as healthcare, emergency and community service workers, at an increased risk of developing [compassion fatigue] and potentially more debilitating conditions such as depression and anxiety.”
However, due to the global pandemic and the resulting changes for so many people, many outside of caregiving professions are also beginning to experience signs of compassion fatigue. We can only deal with the nearly constant stress that many feel due to these external circumstances for so long until our body and mind start to be negatively impacted. Those emotional and physical symptoms can take a very real toll on our lives. It’s important to be self-aware and honest when evaluating if you have any of the following symptoms:
Emotional and Physical Symptoms
The Cleveland Clinic indicates that the symptoms of compassion fatigue are as follows:
“Emotional symptoms can include:
- Isolating yourself from others.
- Feeling numb or disconnected.
- Lack of energy to care about other things around you.
- Feeling overwhelmed, powerless or hopeless.
- Not being able to relate to others.
- Feeling angry, sad or depressed.
- Obsessive thoughts about the suffering of others.
- Feeling tense or agitated.
- Feeling speechless or unable to respond appropriately to what’s happening around you.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Inability to concentrate, be productive or complete daily tasks.
- Nausea or upset stomach.
- Difficulty sleeping or constant racing thoughts.
- Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
- Conflicts in your relationships.
- Changes in your appetite.
- Feeling exhausted all the time.
- Avoiding work or other activities.”
While this list is not exhaustive, it provides a good starting point to self-evaluate and determine if you may be experiencing some level of compassion fatigue. If you feel that you or someone you know may be struggling with this, here are some suggestions on how to cope with or manage the symptoms.
How to Cope
Organizationally, there are many strategies that can be implemented to combat compassion fatigue. Tendacademy.ca notes that “by openly discussing and recognizing compassion fatigue in the workplace, helpers can normalise this problem for one another. They can also work towards developing a supportive work environment that will encourage proper debriefing, regular breaks, mental health days, peer support, assessing and changing workloads, improved access to further professional development and regular check-in times where staff can safely discuss the impact of the work on their personal and professional lives.”
Personally, it’s vital to pay close attention to your own feelings, so that you can address them and properly care for yourself and others. Some personal self-care habits may include:
- Eating healthy foods
- Physical exercise
- Getting enough sleep
- Breathing exercises
- Seek out help from a social support system
- Set realistic goals
- Being flexible when plans change
Additionally, professional counseling may be helpful. Compassion fatigue is typically a gradual process, so you shouldn’t expect to “fix” it overnight. It often takes lifestyle changes and prioritizing your wellness. No matter if you are an individual struggling with compassion fatigue or an organization who is taking it seriously, Care Plus Solutions is always here to help.
Care Plus Solutions is America’s first EAP and is headquartered in New York and has offices in New Jersey. Over the course of the company’s 46 year history, their brand has remained firmly rooted in the rich history of the EAP field, never losing sight of the fundamental purpose of the EAP; delivering personal and quality services to those in need. It is fair to say that Care Plus Solutions is the gold standard in the field of Employee Assistance.
Compassion Fatigue among Healthcare, Emergency and Community Service Workers: A Systematic Review (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4924075/
Empathy Fatigue: How Stress and Trauma Can Take a Toll on You (2020). https://health.clevelandclinic.org/empathy-fatigue-how-stress-and-trauma-can-take-a-toll-on-you/
Running on Empty:Compassion Fatigue in Health Professionals (2018). https://www.tendacademy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/Solutions-article-revised-2018.pdf