We all know of someone who recently lost a family member, is going through financial issues, is struggling with an illness or has lost their home due to unforeseen circumstances. Seeing and hearing about these devastating events to both our loved ones and those we may not know can be saddening – we want to help those around us to get better and live happier. As expressed by Psychology Today, empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. While empathy can be a major source of comfort and support, it can also be dangerous for us if taken to great lengths.
Helping someone in need can energize us and fill us with love and compassion – but giving away too much of ourselves can be very damaging. Dr. Marcia Reynolds, coach and president of Covisioning LLC, explained the draining effect of empathy as this:
“With empathy, you will feel their stress, anxiety, and anger in your body. You might feel their pain emotionally and physically. If you let these emotions sit in your body, your body and mind can be emotionally hijacked.”
This means that by taking on others’ emotions and physical pain, we may be setting ourselves up to avoid our own pain. This can be problematic, as too much empathy can lead to concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, making it challenging for us to release those feelings. When this happens, we have helped others without making ourselves a priority.
Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon which occurs when a person experiences physical and emotional exhaustion and a profound decrease in the ability to empathize. When we begin doing too much for others, such as lending more money than we can afford or placing ourselves in circumstances that cause us greater stress and turmoil, we are at risk for developing compassion fatigue.
To avoid compassion fatigue and to maintain an adequate source of energy within ourselves, we should take several steps:
- Learn more about compassion fatigue
- Practice self-care, such as reading an enjoyable book, taking a walk, etc.
- Set emotional boundaries that help you remember that you are a separate person with your own thoughts, emotions, etc.
- Engage in outside activities
- Develop healthy relationships outside of work and family
- Keep a journal to maintain track of your thoughts and feelings
- Practice building up your resilience to stress
- Develop positive coping strategies
- Seek personal therapy
These are a few effective ways to ensure your health and sanity. Remember that while helping others and feeling for them can be very beneficial, too much “giving” can cause us to feel drained, depressed, and hopeless. Make time for yourself and remember that you need nourishing and relaxation as well.
New Vista Behavioral Health offers a family of treatment facilities providing individualized care plans and exceptional clinical treatment. Our programs are held to higher standards, allowing better outcomes and a brighter future. Call us today for information: 888-316-3665