If you’re anything like us, we know you’re juggling a lot. Working five days per week at your job and at home, looking after your family, trying to find time to spend with your friends and ending up feeling so frazzled on the weekend that you don’t have the energy to do anything. Apart from the physical exhaustion and the mental tiredness there’s also the emotional toll it can take on you. In today’s blog we’re going to talk about compassion fatigue. Recognizing and addressing this emotional state is essential for maintaining your mental health and overall well-being.
Compassion fatigue is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by the constant exposure to others’ suffering or trauma. Common symptoms include feelings of sadness, anger, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Women may be particularly susceptible to compassion fatigue due to the emotional demands of caregiving roles and societal expectations as nurturers. It’s essential to differentiate compassion fatigue from burnout, as the former is more specific to the empathetic nature of helping others.
Historically, women have been viewed as the more compassionate and nurturing gender. Traditional gender roles assigned women the responsibility of caring for the family, while men were expected to be the providers. This is something that has been highlighted quite recently in the updated version of ‘The Rules Handbook’ by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, a guide for keeping your man happy and committed.
The book espouses the outdated concept that a woman should be the junior partner in the relationship and look after all of her man’s emotional needs, giving women advice like, ‘When you come home from work where you have a fancy title like senior VP of corporate marketing and investor relations and run a staff of 50 people, switch from masculine to feminine mode. Set the table and cook dinner, and ask him nicely to help clean up!’ Urgh!
With books like this still being published, it’s not surprising that the cultural expectation of women has persisted, even as feminism and gender equality have evolved. Women now have more opportunities for education and career growth, but they still grapple with the weight of traditional caregiving expectations and continue to be seen as the primary caregivers, not only for their children but also for elderly parents or relatives. The pressure to “do it all” and be the perfect caregiver, mother, and career woman can result in an immense emotional burden and can exacerbate the risk of compassion fatigue.
Knowing yourself is key in dealing with compassion fatigue. Tools like the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL) can help you gauge your level of compassion fatigue. Pay attention to signs such as sleep disturbances, emotional numbness, or decreased motivation, as these may indicate it’s time to seek help.
Strategies for Preventing Compassion Fatigue
- Establish boundaries: Learning to say “no” can be tough but crucial. Create limits in both your personal and professional life to protect your emotional well-being.
- Prioritise self-care: Focus on physical, emotional, and spiritual self-care to maintain balance in your life. Remember, you deserve some TLC too!
- Build a support system: Connect with friends and family, join professional or peer support groups, or explore online forums to share your experiences and learn from others.
Coping Techniques for Compassion Fatigue
- Mindfulness and meditation: Embrace the power of being present. Practice mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and increase self-awareness.
- Expressive outlets: Write it out or get creative! Journaling, painting, or other artistic activities can help process emotions and relieve stress.
- Physical activity and relaxation: Sweat it out or unwind with relaxation techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Exercise and relaxation are essential for maintaining mental health.
- Time management and delegating tasks: Learn to prioritise and delegate tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help.
Seeking Professional Help
If you find that compassion fatigue is impacting your life significantly, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Therapists, counselors, and support groups can provide valuable guidance and assistance. Research and reach out to mental health professionals who specialise in compassion fatigue or caregiving roles for the best support.
As women continue to break barriers and redefine gender roles, it’s essential to challenge the societal expectations that contribute to compassion fatigue. Encourage open conversations about caregiving and emotional labour within families, workplaces, and communities. Recognise that the responsibility of caregiving should be shared among all family members, regardless of gender. By doing so, we can create a more balanced and supportive environment for everyone.
There you have it! It’s time to prioritise self-care, challenge societal norms, and seek help when needed. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Share your experiences and tips for dealing with compassion fatigue in the comments section below. Let’s support each other in our journey towards better mental health and well-being!