I’m pretty sure I can speak on behalf of 99% of people when I say that everyone is grateful for the “helpers” of the world.
The counselors, health care professionals, first responders, teachers, customer service staff, and even parents.
They’re the ones that keep our society functioning and are literally saving lives every single day, but behind the scenes, a lot of them feel like they’re drowning in other people’s anguish.
If you’re one of the helpers of the world you understand the idea of people “dumping” their problems on you.
For some of you, allowing yourself to be the garbage disposal for others to pour all of their hardships, fears, and sorrows into is part of your job description. And for others of you, you kindly lend a listening ear whenever you can because being there for others is a part of what makes you, you.
Whatever the reasons are behind you being the sound board for people’s feelings and the punching bag for their situations, it doesn’t make it any easier.
Not only are you helping other people in your role as an employee/boss, but you’re then going home and feeling you need to help in order to fulfill your role as a partner/parent/friend/child/etc.
And normally you actually enjoy getting to be the person that others can turn to, but recently it's been… a lot.
Navigating the duties in every role that you possess isn’t easy, especially when those roles are filled with the obligation/qualification to be of service to others.
Of course, having a family and social group outside of work is a wonderful thing, but being able to give your energy in the way that you’d like can be more difficult when the role you possess in your career is draining you of your “helping” desire.
It may seem that things are even more intensified with people’s levels of reactions and mental health disorders skyrocketing due to COVID-19. The helpers are left to navigate through other people’s concerns without being able to see clearly through their own.
The overwhelming amount of people’s feelings that our “helpers” experience is leading them to suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue.
What’s Holding Helpers Back?
The majority of helpers in the world get a sense of fulfillment when helping others. They love knowing that they are making a difference in the world every single day, even if it’s through small, minuscule actions.
But more times than not, what the helpers really need is a break from helping others.
However, common negative feelings that arise when trying to take take for yourself are:
The guilt from saying “no” to someone
Feeling selfish from putting yourself first
Lack of fulfillment when they aren’t doing something for other people
The inability to put yourself first can be a leading cause of burnout. Sometimes you’re unable to say “no” when the person needing you is a client, but there are ways that you can prioritize yourself without having to cut back on your work.
Before we jump into how to handle burnout, let’s explore some ways to identify if you’re experiencing it.
Key Signs of Burnout
You have negative thoughts about work, coworkers, or clients
Dreading going to work every single day
You find yourself getting easily irritated with people you come across
Having feelings of emptiness
Experiencing low energy
Not sleeping well
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not the people in your life that are intentionally causing you to experience burnout. The goal isn’t to identify one or two people and put all the blame on them, because at the end of the day that won’t help you to prevent burnout in the future.
What you can do is become aware of yourself and your signs of burnout. Are you feeling more stressed than usual? Are thoughts of work keeping you up at night? Have you been snapping at your children more easily?
The past two years have been a stressful time for everyone, with COVID-19 protocols, lack of workers, and dealing with the unknown of the pandemic, people are feeling exhausted. Especially people like you that serve others in their jobs.
So if quitting your job and taking the next flight out of the country isn’t an option, what can you do?
Ways to Prevent Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
1. Don’t make other people’s problems your own
If you have a job where helping others is your priority, you’re most likely a compassionate and empathetic person. You enjoy being there for people when they need you most and you feel honored that you get to help.
However, there’s a point when your empathy can become your downfall. You start to feel the pain that others are feeling, and the feelings of their negative, continual venting linger on long after they’re gone.
The problem isn’t that you’re nice, the problem is that you have your own problems. You can be a guide for those that are struggling during these times, but that can sometimes make it more difficult for you to deal with your own feelings and problems.
The solution isn’t to quit being compassionate, the solution for most of you is to learn how to detach from the person’s feelings once the session or situation is over.
One helpful way to do this is write down the main points of what the person said, including the things that they were feeling, and then leave all their feelings on that paper.
Remind yourself that just because they felt some type of way does not mean that you need to as well.
This can go for healthcare professionals, first responders, customer service staff, etc. You all deal with intense emotions from others, and being able to identify what the other person was feeling and recognize that those aren’t your own feelings can help you navigate the empathy that comes so naturally to you.
2. Maintain a schedule
Keep a schedule of when you’re working, when you’re doing things around the house, and when you have free time. And then, stick to it.
So many people have the problem of getting stressed with work and then they continue to work more because they think if they “just get one more thing done” it’s going to help their stress levels. When in fact, there’s most likely endless amounts of “one more things” left to do.
Be strict with your time and don’t allow others to sway it. Of course there are random situations where you have to budge on your allotted times for things and that’s okay, but the goal here is to take control of your time. Because by taking control of your time, you can take control of your life.
3. Schedule in alone time
Feeling the urge to continually help others leaves little room for helping yourself. However, if you’ve completed the last step of maintaining a schedule then you’ve most likely found a 30 minute- 2 hour window of time that you can use just for you.
Don’t use this to do extra shopping for the kids, taking a nap, or to write that email you’ve been meaning to. Use this block of time solely for something that you enjoy (besides sleeping).
The reason I say to not sleep is because a 30 minute to 2 hour nap isn’t actually serving you much at the end of the day. Of course naps are great, but if you’re feeling burned out a 30 minute nap is not going to solve that issue.
You need to be able to experience joy. The joy you get from doing some of your favorite small activities like reading a book with some hot tea, taking pictures, going on a walk with your child, or cooking your favorite dessert just for you (your family can have the leftovers).
Schedule in some “you” time, and no matter what you do, don’t allow anything to intrude on these sacred moments.