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Emotional Exhaustion: How to Spot it and What to Do About It

It would be an understatement to say that there is a lot going on in our world today. From COVID-19 to murder hornets to protests and violence, and now hurricane season is upon us. If you are at all connected to social media then you know the constant stream of news, both factual and not, updates, opinions, arguments, conversations.  It’s a lot to absorb and leaves many people feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

There is a name for that feeling of overwhelm: Compassion Fatigue. According to the American Institute of Stress, compassion fatigue refers to what they call “secondary traumatization.” It describes the emotional strain experienced when exposed to people suffering from traumatic events. In other words, physical and mental exhaustion caused by being exposed to other people’s trauma. 

People who typically experience compassion fatigue are those who are in a caregiving role or responsibility such as therapists, social workers, healthcare workers, and first responders. However, in 2020 media has continually exposed everyone to traumatic experiences and it may leave some people feeling mentally and physically drained. 

Do you think compassion fatigue might explain how you are feeling lately?  It can take a toll on a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being. Here are 8 common signs that your mental fatigue is really compassion fatigue:

  1. Consistently physically and emotionally exhausted
  2. Irritability
  3. Difficulty sleeping
  4. Weight loss
  5. Headaches
  6. Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
  7. Blaming others for their suffering
  8. Isolating yourself

People who are experiencing compassion fatigue often deny that it is happening or are simply not aware of the warning signs. Denying that you are worn out or not recognizing symptoms is often what prevents people from seeking help and being truly aware of just how much stress they are experiencing. It can be tricky to spot since the stress is not usually something directly happening to you, rather it is exposure to someone else’s extreme stress and trauma.


The key to keeping stress levels and compassion fatigue in check is awareness and self-care. Here are six strategies for what to do when you are mentally and emotionally exhausted: 

  1. Check-in with yourself and assess what you are experiencing in multiple areas of your life: home and family, work and/or school, relationships, etc. Recognize changes in your behavior and feedback you may have received from friends and family. 
  2. Limit Media

The media is notorious for negativity. It’s how they do business. Limit the amount of time you spend watching the news and scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. Give yourself a designated to time to check-in and get any relevant information about your community and updates, and then turn it off. 

  1. Self Care

Taking care of yourself must become a priority. Have you ever been on an airplane and heard the flight attendant instruct passengers to put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting someone next to you? What a powerful metaphor for self-care! The truth is, you are not much help to anyone else if you can’t breathe. 

Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, do not over-eat or under-eat in response to stress, exercise regularly, journal, meditate, practice mindfulness.

  1. Gratitude

Start a gratitude journal. Each day, take time to write down at least three things you are grateful for. Intentionally focusing on gratitude can help shift your mind to look for positive things in your life. 

  1. Boundaries

Maintain healthy boundaries with others.

  1. Get Help

Speak to a therapist who can help you sort through the complex emotions going on all at the same time. Talking about these emotions with a therapist can help you develop positive coping strategies that you can use during times of stress.

Compassion fatigue can look and feel like a lot of different things, such as anxiety or depression. Many of the warning signs overlap. Pay attention to warning signs and know your mind and body. 

If you find yourself mentally and emotionally exhausted as a result of current events and circumstances, and feel hopeless to change this pattern, seek the help of an experienced therapist who can help you. 

Redeemed Life Counseling is here to help! Our therapists are skilled in helping people overcome their unhealthy thinking patterns and learn to live life with more helpful and healthy thinking.

Call or email us today to set up an appointment with a therapist who can help you.  

940-222-8552 or email [email protected]

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