Do you ever feel like you have a sign across your head that says “Tell me your troubles”? Are you the person who listens? The one who cares for everyone else?
I see you. You know who you are.
You are compassionate caregivers, working with people, professionally or personally, supporting them through their troubles. The compassion and empathy you possess can be wonderful gifts. However, without the right tools, you can become drained by the people you serve and love.
This feeling of depletion is something that “givers” are all too familiar with. It is the syndrome of caring too much. While I call that empathy fatigue, it’s often referred to as compassion fatigue. And no matter what you call it, it’s very real.
In When Helping Hurts, Dr. Oshberg writes:
“…[compassion fatigue] is a process. It’s not a matter of one day, you’re living your life with a great deal of energy and enjoyment, and the next, you wake up exhausted and devoid of any energy – both physical and emotional. Compassion fatigue develops over time – taking weeks, sometimes years to surface.”
So, how can you continue to show up and serve when you are dealing with your own hardships and energy drains? As the founder of The Compassion Code Academy™, I’ve put together the 6 tips for combating compassion fatigue.
1. Take a step back
As humans, we often get into fight, flight or freeze mode when we are experiencing stress. The best thing you can do is take a moment to slow down and ask yourself: “Am I okay right now?”
If the answer is yes, move on to step two.
If the answer is no, then it is important to ask for help, whether reaching out to a friend or seeking professional help. Take care of yourself first.
2. Do some energy accounting
Make a list of aspects of your life (people, activities, etc.) that take up your time. Note what on the list restores your energy and what drains it. And don’t be afraid to tell yourself the truth! You don’t have to change anything… yet.
3. Show yourself some gratitude
When change is upon us, whether good or bad, gratitude for your present state is an important part of the process. List some ways that you serve and qualities that make you who you are that you can be grateful for. Before you make adjustments to the areas from #2 that drain your energy, acknowledge your beautiful, compassionate nature.
Now that you have awareness of aspects that drain you, clear the clutter. What can you remove? Is there anything you can decrease or limit? If the answer is nothing or you can’t make a change because it is your husband, your kids, or your boss, ask what you can change about your perspective that would help shift your energy?
5. Self-compassion and self-care
The true path to compassion for others without burnout comes from having compassion for yourself. Taking care of yourself first isn’t selfish. It is actually imperative if you want to care for others effectively. Utilizing the items on the list that give you energy, identify what you can incorporate into your daily life (5 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour) that will fill you up, so that you can give from full.
6. Recognize that compassion without burnout is a practice
Just as we don’t experience compassion fatigue after one day, self-compassion and revival require consistent action. Be gentle with yourself as you try on this new way of living. If you are going through your own stuff, take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, seek support when you need it, enjoy people or activities that fill you up, and don’t be afraid to reschedule when you need to.
Empathy and compassion fatigue are part of the journey, and you are doing it beautifully.