2 Essential Tips for Anyone Feeling Drained and Depleted
By Mark Travers, Ph.D.
People often turn to therapy when they realize that they are not able to extend support to people in need anymore. They are riddled with questions like:
- “I haven’t felt satisfaction or relief in so long. Why does everything annoy me these days?”
- “I want to be emotionally available and strong but I check out whenever a difficult situation or conversation is about to come up. Am I just lazy?”
- “I cannot remember the last time I had some guiltless fun with my friends and loved ones. Why does everything I used to enjoy seem like hard work lately?”
These questions represent the sound of a person functioning on an empty cup. The mental health world refers to this problem as compassion fatigue. Common in working professionals like therapists, nurses, and veterinarians, compassion fatigue also runs rampant, but is less likely to be diagnosed, in informal caregivers.
A recurring complaint among people with compassion fatigue is that they only get to know about it once they are going through it. If you are currently supporting a loved one through a difficult time or are in a profession that involves continuous and sensitive caregiving, consider these tips:
1. Give your feelings a name.
While compassion fatigue may seem like an inevitability, there are ways to prevent it, the primary one being to learn about it and to check for signs regularly. This is especially important for anyone whose profession demands an extraordinary amount of emotional resilience.
A glaring sign that one might be moving toward a state of compassion fatigue is a decline in what is known as compassion satisfaction. According to one article, compassion fatigue causes “the caring, feeling, and acts of compassion (to) decline,” replacing it with “an outwardly impassive detachedness.”
This can lead to social isolation and a lack of self-care, as well as a plethora of negative emotions such as self-contempt, anger, annoyance, and embitterment.
It’s necessary to keep examining yourself for these signs so that you can report them when things get out of hand. If one does not know about the signs of or the concept of compassion fatigue altogether, it might lead to bigger mental health issues. Always remember: When a problem has a label and a definition, it can seem more manageable and therefore curb feelings of panic and overwhelm.
2. Ask for help.
The people who give help are almost always the most hesitant to ask for it. Fortunately, a number of interventions have proven to be extremely effective for compassion fatigue. While small lifestyle changes like meditation, a balanced diet, and a regular exercise regime are great for prevention, external help might be necessary when one’s compassion tank is running alarmingly low.
An article published in the Journal of Health Service Psychology suggests two proven treatment modalities for compassion fatigue:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Being exposed to chronic suffering can affect your thought patterns too. Learning to recognize current lapses in self-care and boundary setting through CBT can be helpful for someone with compassion fatigue.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This therapy technique can be a great tool to build resilience. Once a person has identified their problem areas, they can follow it up with ACT to build advanced self-care and problem solving skills.
The trite wisdom of putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to help the person next to you holds true in the case of prolonged caregiving and compassion fatigue. One cannot serve another on an empty cup.