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The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to compassion fatigue for many people who provide care to others – read how to recognize and combat compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue: what is it and what can we do?

Supporting young people in having fulfilling childhoods and developing new skills is a deeply rewarding experience – and the reason why so many choose to be parents and/or dedicate their careers to teaching and youth development.

But there are moments in time when supporting kids and teens gets increasingly challenging, and when your everyday efforts become stretched thin as you manage new challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has put pressures on parents, caregivers, teachers and youth development professionals that most of us have never experienced before. In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association from March to May 2020, results confirmed that COVID-19-related parental stress is increasingly high, with more than 7 in 10 parents noting managing virtual learning for their youth as a significant source of stress. 

From supporting virtual and hybrid learning environments, to suddenly juggling childcare and full-time jobs while schools shut down, to trying to help young people manage an overwhelming amount of stress, confusion and fear – this is an incredibly tough time to exist in, let alone guide young people through while staying positive. Just as we’re finding a balance or new routine with schoolwork, meals, home and work, we’re beginning to reckon with the incredible trauma our young people are experiencing due to this pandemic.

It is no wonder terminology like “burnout” and “compassion fatigue” are becoming commonplace in households, schools and companies right now. 

When it feels like our personal stores of empathy are depleted, how can we be more prepared to manage the emotions of our young people? Read on to learn more about compassion fatigue and how to address it so that you can, in turn, continue to engage and support the young people in your life.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue includes emotional, physical and spiritual distress in those providing care to another. It is associated with providing care for people experiencing emotional or physical pain and suffering.

There are a couple of components that are associated with compassion fatigue. One is burnout, which can arise with too much work and insufficient resources to do that work well. Burnout can result in increased symptoms of depression and anxiety, physical and emotional exhaustion, less enjoyment of work, and more agitation. Another is secondary traumatic stress, or indirect exposure to trauma by helping others. It can be experienced by anyone who works on the frontlines with youth, including teachers and youth development professionals, parents and caregivers. 

Recognizing the signs 

Compassion fatigue can impact your ability to do your work, complete daily activities or manage your relationships. There are signs that can suggest that you, or someone you know or work with, might be developing symptoms of compassion fatigue. They can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Decreased interactions with others (isolation)
  • Irritability or lack of patience with your young person 
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Poor self-care
  • Beginning to receive a lot of complaints about your attitude or performance
  • Difficulty sleeping and nightmares
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Blaming others for their suffering
  • Feeling less productive at work

Tips for managing compassion fatigue in yourself

When the need is great and we are working hard to serve others, it can sometimes be challenging to take care of ourselves, and it might even bring feelings of guilt. But we need to remind ourselves to take care of ourselves anyway. Here are some tips in managing compassion fatigue:

  • Find someone to talk to, such as a therapist or family/friends
  • Understand that feeling fatigue or burned-out is normal, and often temporary
  • Exercise and eat properly
  • Get enough sleep/rest
  • Take some time off
  • Develop interests or hobbies outside of work
  • Identify what’s important to you
  • Plan time to be alone (even if it’s five mins)
  • Dress comfortably in clothes you enjoy

To provide support to the kids and teens in our lives, we must practice prioritizing our mental and physical needs first to be able give ourselves compassion and empathy as we continue to serve the emotional needs of others. 

Like the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. If we aren’t making sure that we are okay, we won’t be able to make sure our youth are okay.

Want to Learn More about Compassion Fatigue?

Check out these resources:

Learn more about how Boys & Girls Clubs are supporting youth mental health. This post originated from Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Club Experience Blog.

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