CLEVELAND, Ohio — From the coronavirus pandemic to racial injustices, wildfires, and hurricanes, it's easy to feel burned out or emotionally drained. Experts are calling this "Empathy Fatigue," and it largely impacts frontline and healthcare workers.
Cleveland Clinic Psychologist Dr. Susan Albers says Empathy Fatigue is emotional and physical exhaustion — a profound decrease in a person’s ability to be empathetic or simply to care.
“It's thought to be a secondary source of traumatic stress. In other words, it's stress that comes from helping somebody or witnessing a person going through a very traumatic or stressful time,” said Dr. Albers.
She says it’s often called “the cost of care."
"The people who are most at risk are people like healthcare workers doctors, nurses, police officers, journalists, people who are right there on the front lines helping people day after day. And over time, they become exhausted,” said Dr. Albers.
She says in part, this lack of care is a defense mechanism — your brain’s way of protecting you. Empathy Fatigue can impact anyone.
“People who care long term for parents, or young children that require a lot of care, can experience compassion fatigue, or if you are watching all of the tragic news day after day about COVID, eventually, you can get to the point where you feel emotionally numb or unsympathetic or say to yourself, I just, I just don't care,” said Dr. Albers.
Dr Albers says if youre feeling this burnout, it's first really important to acknowledge it.
"It's okay to take a break. Second, you have to take care to care for others. You need to take care of yourself first," she said. "And when you feel depleted, that means that you need to put some limits on the activities that are depleting you and instead invest in things that are going to nourish and energize you again. Sleep, healthy eating, exercise — this is going to get you energized again, to go out there and take care of the people who you really need to.”
Dr. Albers recommends setting boundaries on the things that cause burnout — even though it may be difficult. Your mind and body will thank you for it.