The Helper’s Curse: Compassion Fatigue

Enjoy this guest post for World Mental Health Day by my friend Tiara from MutedMouthful.com

Today is World Mental Health Day! It is a wonderful opportunity to share stories, educate, and raise awareness around mental health challenges. 1 in 4 people will be affected by a mental health issue and together we can demonstrate that no one must go through it alone.

To partially quote Mr. Rodgers “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Today, we’re going to focus on the helpers, because no one is immune to mental health crises.

If you’re like me and my colleague, Johnzelle, you may be in the helping profession; Social Workers, Therapists, Physicians, Teachers, Counselors, Caregivers, and more, all fall under this category. I am a licensed social worker, I always been passionate about helping others improve their lives. The fulfillment of doing good work outweighed the burden of long nights, low pay, and high stress. Unfortunately, they did not teach that compassion is not a renewable resource and how important it is to prioritize self-care and protect your energy in grad school. Early in my career, I began to experience compassion fatigue; I didn’t have a word for it then. I just knew I was having trouble sleeping, I could barely get myself out of bed, and I questioned leaving the field daily. I went in too hot, too fast, but I know better now. I want to share with you some key factors of compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is experiencing emotional and psychological distress due to prolonged exposure to the trauma and stress of others. Empathetic helpers are prime targets for compassion fatigue, even though sometimes we think we’re invincible. It can be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Avoiding work
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Poor sense of personal fulfillment and/or job satisfaction
  • Anger
  • Feeling like a burden

Do these sound familiar? They are some of the tell-tale signs of experiencing a mental health issue. Staying in the office too late, hostility amongst colleagues, negative media discourse and everyday life can create the perfect storm for compassion fatigue.  It can start to manifest after one bad client interaction or 15 years into your career. It’s important to self-reflect and check-in with yourself; that might even mean seeking your own helper.

How can you mitigate compassion fatigue? Be gentle with yourself and protect your energy; you can learn more about that on my site from our own Johnzelle Anderson.

Listen to your body and listen to your mind; don’t keep it bottled up inside. Doing something your passionate about should not break you. The world needs to keep all the helpers it can manage!

I would like to thank Johnzelle for collaborating with me for World Mental Health Day. Mental health is something near and dear to both of us. If you would like to read more of my work, please check out my blog Muted Mouthful, the perfect place for relating to life’s awkward encounters.

Thanks!

Tiara

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