COVID19 has disrupted our lives for the past month. At this point we are oscillating between acceptance of this new normal and struggling to adapt to a potentially depressing at home lifestyle. Today I wanted to discuss how caring and supporting others during this time can increase the emotional burden we are currently carrying around. Compassion fatigue can be understood as feelings of “burnout” as a result of supporting others who are experiencing great stressors. Compassion fatigue is highest when we are emotionally invested and greatly empathize with the stressors of those we support. The more you care about others, the more their pain becomes your pain. This can become exhausting and starts to take a great toll on our own mental health.
This may be due to caring for people in our lives who may be “frontliners” or simply have loved ones who are struggling with this new lifestyle. COVID19 and related social isolation has left many of us to feeling pressured to “check in” on friends and family more often than in the past. Taking the time to call our grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends takes time and energy. Being the support system to loved ones can be challenging at the best of times, but with the added fact that many of these people may be living alone, have a history of anxiety, or are experiencing financial strain may lead to conversations being more melancholic and feel like more of a chore.
Those of us who work in helping professions (on the front lines or working from home) might feel the additional pressure to “support everyone around me”. Feeling like you are usually the resilient one can just add pressure to be “feeling ok” at these times, because we do not want to make it worse for those around us and those who depend on us for support.
It can feel especially overwhelming when we tell ourselves that others have it “worse than we do”. Comparing our personal experience with the experiences of others can be invalidating. Still having a job, not being on the front lines, living with loved ones, or not having clinical anxiety does not mean that our experience with stress is not real or important.
So what do we do about all of this?
We need to validate ourselves and recognize that it is ok to be feeling multiple emotions at once. If we do not give ourselves permission to “not be ok” we just push ourselves deeper into isolation. We need to be open and communicative with our loved ones when being their emotional support is overwhelming our ability to support ourselves. Being aware of our limits and boundaries are important in any healthy relationship, but it becomes even more critical when we are feeling fragile and burnt out. Respecting your personal limits might mean checking in with our grandparents/sisters/friends/parents only once a week instead of once a day without added guilt for that decision. Alternatively, it might mean calling different people who make us feel better. It may also mean being honest with others when we are not ok and allowing the conversation to turn towards letting others support us. Speaking our own truths can feel liberating.
Supporting ourselves and It may also mean allowing ourselves more self care time or indulgences. An Uber Eats meal and a bubble bath might not take away your anxiety, but it may bring you some comfort at a time when you could use some.
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Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.
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