Mental Health, Wellness / Self-Care

Compassion fatigue is a real thing, here’s a breakdown

Be there for yourself before others.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Apr 28, 2022

With more and more mask mandates lifted, the world has started to re-experience former hobbies, travel to different cities, and explore more things that they always wanted to. In a way the pandemic has reminded people of what is truly important and why they should do certain things. During this time, social media has created memes reminding people how busy they used to be pre-pandemic and how drained they are doing one to three activities a day post-pandemic. 


All over Instagram you’ll see people post how tired they are now that they are back in the “world.” Our bodies got so used to relaxing and taking it easy in sheltering-in-place times that we are slow to get back to our regular stamina and activities without feeling major fatigue. This sense of total exhaustion can happen to anyone and actually comes in many forms, one of them being compassion fatigue. 


Compassion fatigue happens when you experience exhaustion from caring about something or someone else. Without knowing, many of us probably experienced this numbing or frustrating feeling throughout the pandemic as we read sad headline after sad headline. Personally, I was devastated at the total casualties around the world from COVID-19, the attack on Asians with people falsely believing they spread it, and deep sadness for a world who believes Black and BIPOC people’s lives should not matter. All of this at a certain point was too much. It was difficult to navigate or find more space and compassion for all the things that were happening, I didn’t know it at the time but what I was experiencing was compassion fatigue. 


Symptoms include mood swings, sadness, lack of motivation, and general short fuse. The term originated to describe the lives of healthcare workers and the work and experiences they have. Now the term can be applied to anyone that places a significant amount of time and energy into helping or caring about others and topics. Some signs that you could have compassion fatigue include: constant required support to someone or something, the undertaking of a large workload causing you to overextend yourself, checking in on people you believe are going down, and taking on stress that shouldn’t be your responsibility.


All of these things are good and kind to a certain extent but the minute you start neglecting your own feelings, wants, and desires for others is why it becomes risky. It’s when you feel selfish for doing things that you want to do. Another way to think of this is burnout but from people and ideas. So how do you get rid of it or manage it in a healthy way? Start to take inventory of when you are or aren’t showing up for yourself. You need to create an environment to build your energy, you might see you need this daily or you might need it weekly. Either way, it’s important to have. 


Secondly, set boundaries. You need to decide who is causing you compassion fatigue and come up with a plan of action that allows you to still be there for that person but for it to not cause you pain or stress. What works for me is establishing a morning and night routine. In the morning, I like to start with meditation, tea with an eye mask, and a nice morning workout or walk. Following this, I’ll brush my teeth, stretch and make breakfast. This alone time in the very early morning before checking in with the world is the healthiest part of my day. I enjoy doing this first thing in the morning as I find distractions or other requirements come up during the day. 


At night, instead of unwinding with a glass of wine, Netflix, or doom scrolling; I’ll spend time reading a chapter of my monthly book and keep my legs on the wall to improve circulation. I’ll end with a stretch. These little routines create time for myself and allow me to be myself and reflect on the day. It also limits social media which could cause the brain to go on and on with different circumstances or made up realties. This will also improve your quality of sleep. 


Recently, I’ve also found that signing off for the day and silencing my work email and messages each day has been massively beneficial for my overall mental health. In the beginning it’s easier said than done but with some time it will really help you.


Think about it, you can’t show up for others until you show up for yourself. Instagram even has a new feature to prompt you to take a break.