Although burnout and compassion fatigue are different, they often travel together.
If you are a caregiver or you work in a helping profession, burnout and compassion fatigue are occupational hazards. Burnout makes you feel cynical, tired, and callous toward your work or co-workers. You may be so dedicated to your responsibilities that you put your own health and wellbeing at risk to do your job.
You are more likely to experience compassion fatigue if you assist individuals who experience trauma, children in unfortunate circumstances, and people who are critically ill or dying. However, with the worlds’ traumas and dramas being continuously delivered to you via the internet, you can experience compassion fatigue just by focusing on all the suffering in the world. This can cause continuous tension, hypervigilance, and apathy.
How do you know if you’re developing burnout or compassion fatigue?
If your work no longer invigorates you the way it did in the beginning, you could be heading toward these problems.
Both burnout and compassion fatigue can rob you of the joy you used to experience when you did a good job. In either case, they can make you feel as if what you do isn’t enough or that your work is never finished. If you’re burned out, you may feel many of the symptoms associated with depression. Compassion fatigue, which is also known as secondary traumatic stress, shares symptoms with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Compassion fatigue and burnout can make you more self-critical which will make you feel less deserving of self-care and time for yourself. Then, if you stop taking good care of yourself, your feelings of defeat can expand.
The Consequences of Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of burnout or compassion fatigue and they’re not getting better, you likely don’t have the skills you need to prevent or recover from burnout or compassion fatigue. You may wish you could quit your job and you may even do it. You may also be tempted to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, sex, or food to escape from your feelings.
If you stay on the job, you’ll still have your technical skills, but you won’t feel connected and engaged the way you once did. You’ll be surprised by how many mistakes you make; the high stress caused by both burnout and compassion fatigue can make it difficult to think clearly.
Caregivers need care, too.
The way you mentally process your experiences has more influence over whether you become burned out or suffer compassion fatigue than the situations you experience. Some people succumb faster than others, and some don’t succumb at all. The difference is in how they think about their experiences.
Therapy Can Help
You don’t have to leave a profession you worked hard to enter. You can recover from or prevent burnout by developing skills that help you process the stressors you experience as a caregiver. Many of the same skills help prevent and heal compassion fatigue. With the right skills, you can care more without taking on the emotional burdens of being a caregiver.
In therapy you can work through healthy ways to process your experiences in order to reduce the amount of stress you experience each day. It can help you learn how to create healthy boundaries that allow you time for self-care and to enjoy your life. When you understand how your habits of thought influence your reactions, you can choose your perspective based on whether it supports you or makes you vulnerable.
If you’re ready to learn how to cope with, and improve, the stress associated with your caretaking roles, reach out to us. This is work we do with clients every day, and we want to help you, too. You can reach us via email or text, or by making an online appointment.