Today, let’s get to know about caregiver stress and empath fatigue and understand how they differ and at what points they meet.

Empathy and compassion are intense emotions that are an asset to humankind, but it comes at a great cost to some vulnerable to emotional contagion.

Who is an empath? Why is empathy fatigue fraught?

Empath, being derived from the Greek “em” (in) and “pathos” (feeling), the term empathic means you’re able to “feel into” others’ feelings. And for empaths, this sensitivity is multiplied to the nth degree. An empath is more sensitive to others than the average empathic person. But don’t they say, “access to everything is bad?”

Empath Fatigue is for people who take others’ feelings and emotions as their own. It is almost inevitable and has its costs. For empaths, emotional freedom isn’t a free piece of cake. It maybe is categorised as a personality trait and not something which is induced due to overwhelming responsibilities or tasks.

However, compassion stress, or secondary stress, is emotional and physical exhaustion leading to decreased ability to help or offer support and compassion to people. It is usually seen as burnout but is more than burnout. The onset of compassion stress is random. However, burnout happens after an unchecked stress level over a period of time.

Compassion stress was mainly concerned with those professionals at the frontline of healthcare. But today, the affected population has widened to the more general public with easy access to news and updates broadcasted to us at any time.

Consider it as an account; if we overspend our resources, i.e., our empathy and compassion, we end up feeling anxious, and some strong negative emotions can hit us up hard too.

The crossroads for the two types of fatigue is at the risk of decreasing mental wellbeing and a person’s inability to offer genuine care even when they want to. Let’s see how.

Signs and symptoms that you may have empathy fatigue or compassion stress:

Empaths and caregivers need to understand that they can’t pour from an empty cup. In other words, to offer care, love and support, we have to first ensure that we are in a healthy and happy headspace.

Look out for these signs and symptoms through which compassion and empathy fatigue can manifest themselves:

Physical symptoms:

  • You cannot focus properly on conversations and tasks
  • Frequent headaches and nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Change in your appetite
  • Uncomfortable and unnecessary conflicts in your relationships
  • Procrastination
  • Feeling physical fatigues most of the day

Emotional symptoms:

  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Feeling numb or detached from things and people
  • Unable to care about things around you
  • Feeling powerless, hopeless and overwhelmed with almost everything
  • Difficulty in relating to others
  • You can feel sad, angry or depressed at any given time; there’s no pattern lest having no pattern becomes a pattern!
  • You are obsessed with the sufferings and problems of others
  • Self-blame for not being able to offer help
  • Feel difficult to respond to the happenings around you

Treating and Overcoming Compassion Stress and Empathy Fatigue

Awareness is the first step a person takes toward recovery.

As per a project on compassion fatigue awareness, “denial is one of the most detrimental symptoms”. Most importantly, it prevents us from correctly analysing the stress and prevents us from seeking (professional) help in time.

Above all, it is important that we are aware of the problem at hand, take precautions and seek help if and when required.

If you want to find out your compassion satisfaction or stress level, a questionnaire PROFESSIONAL QUALITY OF LIFE SCALE (PROQOL) designed by Dr Beth Hundall Stamm, one of the world’s leading experts on compassion fatigue.

The questionnaire was designed primarily for professional helpers. Still, it can give you a better understanding if you are offering support and care as a primary caregiver to a loved one.

Based on the scores, if compassion fatigue is heavy on you, I would first and foremost suggest you try and take professional help and talk to a therapist.

In addition to seeking professional help, here’s what you can try to limit compassion and empathy fatigue:

  • Take a mental health day off to switch off and relax
  • Limit your exposure to daily news intake
  • Educate yourself
  • Show compassion to yourself
  • Ask for outside help if you are a primary caregiver to a loved one
  • Communicate and express what you need
  • Engage in positive and healthy activities to change things around you

If your compassion metre is satisfactory, then paying gratitude for the good things in life makes sense; continue practising healthy boundaries, and take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing with authentic and trustworthy self-help resources.

If you feel you need help, we are here for you! Write to us or book your therapy session with globally accredited therapists and navigate your mental wellbeing at your own pace.