Employees in the healthcare system may encounter a condition where they feel extreme distress and tiredness, and this is called compassion fatigue.
How can this affect our health caregivers, and what are the different signs of compassion fatigue?
What is compassion fatigue?
Not everyone can effectively and efficiently deal with people who have experienced trauma. It takes a big heart to be there to listen and to show empathy. It’s admirable to see our health care workers take care of the people who have been through so much.
They may not have been there, directly exposed to the scene that caused the trauma, but as they hear the story, their empathy takes over. These workers put their time, mind, and their heart into every patient they have.
Unfortunately, even health care workers can suffer from compassion fatigue.
What does compassion fatigue mean?
The definition of compassion fatigue is the physical, psychological, and emotional impact of helping people who have experienced trauma.
Compassion fatigue syndrome is also known as secondary traumatic stress, secondary stress reaction, or vicarious trauma. It can affect many of our caregivers and professionals.
Is compassion fatigue the same as burnout?
Some people may think of this as a form of burnout, but it’s not the same.
Burnout, by definition, is physical and emotional exhaustion. It can be because of your schedule, workload, toxic working environment, and such. It doesn’t specifically revolve around someone else’s traumatic experience.
With burnout, everyone, no matter what industry they are in, can experience it. However, burnout can be resolved by changing the nature of your work.
Now, what causes compassion fatigue is when the person helping becomes too involved in saving their patients that it starts to interfere with their own emotions.
Being in constant exposure to patients experiencing trauma can also impact the caregiver’s physical and mental health. It is where a caregiver experiences signs of compassion fatigue, such as physical and psychological exhaustion.
That is why it’s vital to be aware of the different signs of compassion fatigue. This way, you will know how you can start treating compassion fatigue.
What can cause compassion fatigue?
Before we proceed with the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue, we must first understand what can cause it.
Healthcare workers and chronic caregivers are the most susceptible people to compassion fatigue. Their job description requires them to care, listen, and devote themselves to caring and healing.
– Being too close to a patient and losing them is one reason a healthcare worker can experience compassion fatigue.
– There are also instances where, despite all your efforts, you realize that you can’t save this person from a disease.
– For mental health professionals, there can be many triggers that can cause compassionate fatigue. Being threatened by a patient, being close to a patient, and then discovering they had committed suicide or giving care to someone who lost their child.
– Social workers who help survivors of domestic abuse. Sometimes, the abuse is so grave that the person giving aid also experiences the effects of it.
All of these situations can take a toll on the healthcare worker. It is the cost of caring for someone else. For some, having empathy is both a blessing and a curse.
If you are in the healthcare industry, then you have to know the compassion fatigue warning signs. This way, in any event that you start experiencing these signs, you would know what to do.
15 Signs that you may be suffering from compassion fatigue
Signs of compassion fatigue can be different for everyone. Some people experience physical and emotional changes, while others experience mental or spiritual symptoms.
1. You have trouble sleeping
After a long day’s work, you try to rest and fall asleep, but you can’t. Thoughts of your patient’s situations haunt you, even in your sleep.
You become restless and have trouble falling asleep. Over time, this can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
2. Increased emotional intensity
Emotional intensity is how you express what you feel. It can be happiness, sadness, and even anger.
When you are experiencing compassion fatigue, you will have a hard time controlling these emotions. It’s like feeling a complex of different feelings all at the same time.
This can be confusing, hurtful, and frustrating.
3. Impaired judgment
Because you’re too invested in the emotions that you are feeling, chances are, your judgment will also suffer.
Most of the time, instead of having a clear mind and analyzing the situation, you’re left with extreme emotions that cause a clouded or biased judgment.
4. Anger and hatred towards the cause or perpetrators
When you work on cases where, for example, a child experiences extreme abuse, it’s normal to feel anger at the person who did it.
However, if anger becomes too much that it fills your heart with hate, and your work, judgments, and thoughts are affected, this is one of the signs of compassion fatigue.
5. You have trouble focusing
You still have other patients, other cases to work on, but you can’t focus.
Your mind is filled with random thoughts, scenarios, plans, and so much more, yet you can’t put them into action, and you end up being unproductive.
Watch this video to learn how to focus better:
6. You start distancing yourself from other people
Currently, you no longer have the drive to socialize. You prefer being alone. After work, you say no to any invite to unwind, you go home and be alone.
It’s when everything seems to be too much that you begin to distance yourself from the world.
7. You feel depressed
Yes, even if you are a professional, you are also susceptible to having depression.
That feeling of deep sadness, withdrawal from society, and negative thoughts can pile up and trigger depression.
You know the signs, and you know what’s happening to you. Being a healthcare professional, you are also aware of how depression can affect us. This is a sign to help yourself.
You look at all your patients, and you feel hopeless and helpless. This extreme feeling of hopelessness can take a toll and cause an emotional breakdown.
It is when you’re faced with multiple cases that don’t get resolved, or you are faced with a dead-end.
9. You start believing that the world is unfair
No matter how much you want to help or how much you are trying to help, sometimes, you just can’t.
The pain of losing a patient or a case or seeing that all your efforts are wasted can cause someone to feel that the world is unfair. This can stop them from focusing on their goal, which is to help.
10. Intrusive thoughts
When you’re being bothered by intrusive thoughts that you can no longer function and sleep, this can alter how you see yourself as a person and as a healthcare worker.
You start blaming yourself, thinking about what you could have done differently, or if it was your fault if you lost a patient or a case.
11. Physical exhaustion
Being in the healthcare system can be exhausting, especially since we are now facing a pandemic.
Feeling sick, exhausted, and weak are all signs of compassion fatigue, along with the others that we’ve mentioned.
12. Self-medication or substance abuse
Compassion fatigue can cause stress, physical pain, and even sleepless nights.
Unfortunately, to treat this, some would opt to self-medicate. Our healthcare workers can start taking painkillers until they can’t function without them.
For some, to fall asleep, they would turn to drink alcohol or take sleeping pills until they think they need it every night.
13. Loss of self-worth
You start your career optimistic and want change. You believe that you can change the world by helping one person at a time. Then, you suddenly realize that you’ve lost all hope in your craft and yourself.
You look in the mirror and realize that self-worth has been affected dramatically.
14. Your relationships outside work gets affected
We all know that we shouldn’t let our work affect our life and vice versa.
However, a person experiencing compassion fatigue can no longer separate their work life and personal life.
They begin to be irritated at their kids, spouses, or friends. They start releasing anger at the slightest trigger, which can affect their family.
15. Quitting work
If a person doesn’t know how to treat compassion fatigue, this can lead to giving up. Resigning from work because you feel that you have nothing left to give, you no longer feel compassion or empathy, and you want to be alone.
It’s one of the most common reasons why some healthcare workers resign.
How can you deal with compassion fatigue?
Before we tackle how to deal with compassion fatigue, you must first understand that you can overcome this.
A professional who uses their skills and heart to help heal can sometimes take in too much. When this overflows, the healer becomes the one needing the healing.
1. Be aware of the signs
Those in the healthcare industry shouldn’t forget that they are vulnerable to compassion fatigue.
As part of their job, they should be aware of the signs of compassion fatigue.
They should assess themselves if ever they start experiencing some of the signs or symptoms listed above.
2. Include self-care in your routine
Remember this. You have a big heart. However, to help others, you need to help yourself as well.
By including self-care in your routine, you will develop a practice that can help you function better.
Include eating a well-balanced diet, exercise, relaxation, complete sleep, and of course, even socialization.
Don’t think that these self-care routines will cut your time to help people. On the contrary, this will make you more effective and efficient with your work.
Showing empathy and love for other people and helping them is heroic, but remember that you are also human.
These jobs are demanding, and sometimes, we forget that you, too, need compassion and assistance. Like a sponge, you absorb the person’s hurt, sadness, and emptiness, and you end up exhausted.
You deserve the compassion and love you’re giving, and don’t forget to give that to yourself.
4. Reduce your workload
Due to the pandemic, almost all our healthcare workers have exhausted themselves trying to help and heal people. From the medical industry to the mental health support system, all of these people are overworked.
Compassion fatigue is no joke.
But to help more people, you need to decrease your workload. If you overwork yourself, you end up unproductive, and you can experience compassion fatigue.
Avoid overworking yourself, and add self-care to your routine. This way, you will be more productive, and you will help more people.
5. Ask for help
Even if you are a healthcare professional yourself, you also need help when showing signs of compassion fatigue.
Please don’t be ashamed to ask for help when you need it.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.