As managers, we are responsible for the professional development of our teams. However, that responsibility expanded during the pandemic. From anxiety and depression to heath and childcare, many of us have engaged with the personal struggles of our employees in a way that would never occur under ordinary circumstances and it can be overwhelming.
When caring for others begins to take a personal toll, it is called “compassion fatigue.” It is most associated with those in caretaking professions but is now so pervasive that it is sometimes called “pandemic fatigue.”
Several months ago, I hit my breaking point. Like many people, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I constantly felt that I was failing the people around me. I spent all my time trying to support my team and address their problems, but it never seemed to be enough.
The turning point for me was learning that I was experiencing something normal and manageable. I made changes that have restored my wellbeing and you can too.
The first step in managing compassion fatigue is checking in with yourself. If you are a highly empathetic person and/or have a lot of responsibility for others, then you are at high risk. Identify feelings and behaviors that aren’t normal for you. Do you feel that way all the time or do you have triggers? Compassion fatigue can creep up slowly over time so it’s important to step back and take stock of where you are.
Honor Your Emotional Needs
Have compassion for yourself. Remind yourself that you have needs just like the people you care for and you can’t take care of others without caring for yourself. Whatever your mind and body are telling you they need is valid whether it’s time to zone out watching bad reality tv, take the dogs for a walk or sleep in late.
Remote work makes it easy to never turn off. But giving up work-life balance is a recipe for burnout. Set both logistical and emotional boundaries. Limit when you will and won’t work or be responsive to emails and communicate that to the people you work with. Give yourself permission to step back for your own wellbeing.
Find Opportunities for Joy
If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it has been the temporary (or not so temporary) ability to work whenever and wherever instead of being bound to an office and a rigid schedule. Find ways to use that unique flexibility. Once I was fully vaccinated, I put my belongings in storage and am now working while travelling around the US, visiting corners of the country I never would have otherwise seen. Not ready to travel? Be a local tourist and go see things in your own backyard.
Seek Professional Help
Remember that you don’t have to manage compassion fatigue alone. Seek out support groups or professional help at any point in this process. A wide range of resources are available. Reach out to your insurance provider or seek out local referral services to find an appropriate professional for your needs. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has a free, national helpline for treatment referral: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
What coping strategies have you implemented for managing compassion fatigue? Share in the comments.