Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress over time. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful.
Compassion fatigue is a specific type of burnout that occurs in individuals in helping or caregiving roles and has been described as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional pain. The work of helping requires people to open their hearts and minds to those they help – unfortunately, this very process of empathy is what makes helpers vulnerable to being profoundly affected and even possibly damaged by their work. Over time, helpers may become eroded and begin to experience physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, in addition to a decreased capacity for compassion and empathy. Some helpers may also begin to experience secondary traumatic stress, or vicarious traumatic stress, wherein those in a helping role begin to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their exposure to others’ trauma.
Counselling can help you to discover the factors contributing to your specific challenges and create a new path to overcome them. Although many of the factors contributing to burnout and compassion fatigue are systemic in nature (meaning that they are attributable to the environment, rather than the individual) and may be out of your immediate control, there are steps you can take to become more resilient and find more meaning and fulfilment in your role.