Updated: Sep 29
You might need to give yourself a little rest, friend.
Compassion fatigue has become a pretty common, well understood term. In any helping profession, it's a professional term. We all will tire of caring for others if we do not take care of ourselves, and show some of that compassion to ourselves. As in, take a break from the others, for a moment, in order to recharge and reengage.
Then, all that is 2020 ascended on us, and I saw and heard decision fatigue manifest itself. Simple activities, like running an errand or visiting a friend, became fraught with decisions. The process of gathering keys, wallet, and phone, became arranging for a mask, hand sanitizer and wipes, needing to determine are they sick, who have they been around, are they open, is it safe, will I be able to keep distant, should I stay outside, will they have what I need, should I call in advance, are other rules in place I need to know, should I change out of my pajama pants, etc. All that is just running to the drugstore, not to mention deciding how to get kids back to school!
Outrage fatigue* is equally as tricky as the others above. Outrage is noble and necessary as is compassion and making decisions; such as when we are speaking out for social justice, or supporting our causes, or our political or religious views, whatever they may be. Just as the other categories, we may find we have a limit.
Notice, there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong or unhealthy about any of the initiating categories above: compassion, decisions, even outrage. All produce things that are needed in the world, including but certainly not limited to: love and relationships, actions and progress, attention, change, and opportunities for improvement.
The problem arises when we, as individuals, reach this fatigue capacity, that it keeps us from being able to do thing we originally wanted to do. At least, we're not able to do it well, in a healthy, productive, or effective way. When we reach a point of fatigue in anything, we become less present, more defensive. Less intentional, more guarded. Less hopeful or cooperative, more angry and attacking. And these are qualities (good and bad) of all three of these categories.
Not only are our original well-intentioned efforts thwarted, but this fatigue then has a negative impact on the other aspects of our lives and relationships.
Here are a few tips for recognizing and recovering from your fatigue:
Get to know your tell. How do you know when you're not in the best state? Do you get hostile, controlling, or attacking? Do you isolate and shutdown? Over eat or drink? Get in touch with your cues. If you don't know, ask a trusted loved one. Yeah, that's not fun, but you'll learn something!
Take a second to identify what your "tell" is telling you. You might just be mad about the guy cutting you off in traffic, or you forgot to eat lunch. Or you might realize that you might have more going on that you need to address.
If you find yourself in the fatigue zone, I suggest giving yourself permission to take a break. Whatever that might look like for you. It could be anything from a guilt-free nap, no-agenda time with a loved one, even permission to shut off or disconnect from the trigger for a spell of time.
With that break, your mind and heart is more able to get reconnected to your values, your "why" that drives who you are and what you do. Then you will be able to be intentional with your actions, and that might include some boundaries, self compassion, and some "no".
Remember, the goal is to take care of yourself, SO THAT you have the capacity to do and be and go in the way that you originally set out to do and be and go! And you can't do that if you are wore out. If you find yourself in any kind of fatigue, give yourself rest. And reengage.
* Compassion Fatigue is a well-known documented experience. In full disclosure, I have not seen research or evidence from people smarter than me naming or claiming Decision or Outrage Fatigue as "things". Yet. Just writing from my experience and education and understanding of things.
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