We had an interesting conference call last week with a chief medical officer of a health care system. While discussing the "elephants" they were juggling, he mentioned compassion fatigue. While the term has been around since the 1950's, it was new to our vocabulary. The CMO described it as a condition that occurs in certain health care workers. It's different from burnout because people enjoy what they do and find meaning in it-they are just so drained from the compassion required in these unique positions.
Wikipedia gives this description of the symptoms:
Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self doubt.
Using a Juggling Elephants perspective, the ringmaster is just drained-and needs frequent intermissions to maintain their mental and physical energy. Or they may need to spend some time in their other rings to be "refreshed and renewed." Spending a large amount of time in one ring-especially if it's intense-is draining. The parent with an uncooperative newborn, a caregiver who is with their sick loved one 24/7.
If you are suffering from some form of compassion fatigue, determine some ways to quickly replenish what drives you. If you know someone who is suffering from compassion fatigue, see if there are ways you can offer relief.