Maxed Out and Exhausted? It Could Be Empathy Fatigue


Caretakers the world over are all too familiar with feelings of being stretched too thin from time to time as they nurture, support, and protect those they care for. Many others, though, are experiencing similar feelings for the first time during the pandemic. Whether you’ve been stuck at home caring for children 24/7, caring for an elderly or disabled loved one, or even “caretaking” your colleagues and your business as we all navigate this unusual time, you may have hit a wall of empathy fatigue.

What Is Empathy Fatigue?

Empathy is when you connect with and feel someone else’s pain. It’s a beautiful way to connect with others, but remaining in this state becomes exhausting because you are in the constant position of giving while not receiving anything back to fill your own coffers. Compassion is when we try to alleviate someone else’s pain. Compassion is love in action.

When you start to feel tired or drained from giving, that’s empathy fatigue. And the key to healing it lies in compassion. The practice of Mindful Self-Compassion offers many tools we can use to overcome empathy fatigue in the present and help to prevent it in the future.

Here are five tips to inspire you to recognize, heal, and avoid empathy fatigue.

1.  When you feel exhausted from caretaking, don’t ignore it. That’s empathy fatigue! If you don’t acknowledge it and work to heal it, it can take over and wreak havoc on your sense of well-being.

2.  When you add compassion to your empathy something beautiful happens: you help another person, and in return you experience self-compassion and self-care.

3. Caring best for others starts with taking the best care of YOU. The well-worn analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first applies here. If you don’t keep yourself healthy and well in body and mind, your ability to care for others will be severely compromised — and impossible to maintain long term!

4. Make time for mindful self-care. Take a few minutes for meditation each day. Take a nice, hot bath. Call a friend. Take a walk and practice staying grounded by putting your attention on the soles of your feet. Listen to music that soothes and inspires you. Practice Loving Kindness. Fill yourself back up with an abundance of caring.

5. Balancing empathy with compassion (for self and others) is crucial for avoiding empathy fatigue. We can’t just feel all the pain all the time and expect not to be drained. Switching over to compassion enables us to take action to alleviate suffering. When empathy fatigue happens, remember that you are missing the compassion component!

Your empathy fatigue is telling you something: it’s time to turn your amazing caring skills towards yourself. And it’s the furthest thing from selfish to do so, in spite of what your inner critic may be piping up to suggest. Caring for ourselves is a necessary part of being able to care for others. Be the best caretaker you can be by making self-care a priority.

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