As we conclude our series on compassion fatigue, today’s post discusses how to respond when we notice potential burnout in others. As with any condition, listening with love must take the driver’s role for effective, healthy support. Listen at least twice as much as you speak. Even more is better.
As you listen to the exhausted, look for a few red flags. Resist the temptation to diagnose, but suggest your friend consider checking on the possibility of compassion fatigue if the red flags show potential for burnout.
If your friend is open to recommendations, offer to send links. Sometimes allowing another party to offer advice helps maintain your position as a friend. A burned out helper can become irritable to those who love them most, and permitting plenty of space for personal boundaries can be healthy for the friendship. However, a good friend will step up to confront in loving, yet clear terms when disaster looms.
In your own words, speak to the burdened individual with something simple like, “You know I care what happens to you because we’re friends. I wouldn’t let you drive full speed over the edge of a cliff. That’s why I have to talk to you about how wiped out you are. I see a cliff up ahead, and you’re too valuable to end up as roadkill.”
A burned out responder, caregiver, or ministry volunteer can negatively affect those they intend to serve. If your friend won’t respond to your input, consider asking another concerned person to approach them. Above all, remember the powerful healing asset of prayer.
Though many of the following symptoms relate to other diagnoses, several of these occurring together could also signify compassion fatigue:
- Loss of focus and concentration.
- Anxiety or worry
- Loss of motivation
- Stomach or digestion issues
- Heart palpitations or arrythmia
- Increased stress symptoms, such as headaches or escalating blood pressure
- Inability to complete projects or tasks
- Family or friends noting you seem disconnected or distant
- Neglect of personal relationships
- Putting off spiritual devotions, meditation, and prayer time (sermon and lesson prep times don’t count)
- Feeling distant from God or out of touch with the Holy Spirit
- Emotional numbness
- Dissociation, as if not in your body or as if you are walking through a surreal experience instead of reality
- Anger and bitterness
- Judgmental attitudes become an instant reaction
- Avoiding pleasurable activities
- Chronic lateness or missing scheduled activities altogether
- Change in sleep patterns (oversleeping and unable to get up or difficulty sleeping)
- Self-indulgence to escape (alcohol, gluttony, binge-views of television, shopping)
- Working extra hours
- Diminished self esteem
- High expectations of yourself
- Loneliness and isolation
- Feeling as if nothing you do matters (existential despair)
As always, a treatment professional is best equipped to render a diagnosis. But friends are best at supporting one another toward seeking help.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16)
I’d love to respond to your questions or concerns about compassion fatigue. Feel free to share with us in the comments.