Decompress to Avoid Empathy Burnout: Psychiatrist
Tue, April 20, 2021

Decompress to Avoid Empathy Burnout: Psychiatrist

Empathy is a great thing. Researchers on emotion generally define it as the ability to sense other people's emotions or the capacity to place oneself in the position of another person / Photo by: fizkes via Shutterstock

 

Empathy is a great thing. Researchers on emotion generally define it as the ability to sense other people's emotions or the capacity to place oneself in the position of another person. It helps individuals establish and maintain friendships. In the medical field, it has improved patient satisfaction, reduced medical errors and malpractice, and improve health outcomes, too. But if a person is in tune with the emotions of too many people too much of the time, they may experience empathy burnout.

Understanding Empathy Burnout

Empathy burnout is when an empath gets exhausted or completely overwhelmed by taking another person’s “baggage.” US news provider USA Today shared the story of two well-known mental health counselors - a megachurch pastor and an Ivy League college expert - who died by suicide. It showed the “cost of caring too much,” the report reads. 

In an interview with self-described empath and American board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff, she said that there is a need to decompress to avoid empathy burnout. “Taking adequate alone time is essential to decompress,” she said. This is one way to establish boundaries as an empath. Dr. Orloff believes that if empaths go nonstop at work or even during their role as parents without slowing down once in a while to relax, they risk falling victim to chronic exhaustion, overwhelm, and anxiety.

Establishing Boundaries as an Empath

Dr. Orloff pointed out the importance of having mini-breaks as a way to take a few deep breaths and spend quiet time without attending to phone calls, over-stimulation, and demands. It would also be helpful to meditate or take a walk even for just a few minutes because it helps prevent sensory overload and break the momentum of stress.

When questioned about how a person would know if he or she is an empath, the psychiatrist said there is a 20-question self-assessment test that she developed in her book titled "The Empath’s Survival Guide." Some signs or traits include feeling drained when in crowds, finding a need to have alone time to replenish oneself, having been labeled by others as overly sensitive in a derogatory manner, taking other people’s emotions and stress, finding it relaxing to spend time in nature, and being super-sensitive to excessing talking, smells, and noise. 

Although empaths have special challenges, they also have many gifts. “It’s a beautiful trait,” she continued. Dr. Orloff likewise shared that empathy is a precious trait and people need more of it because it allows the person to see the point of view of other people. Even if the empath disagrees on an issue or doesn’t particularly like the person, they can still try to understand their position. Such a kind of trait allows the world to resolve differences.

Importance of Turning Stress Off

Dr. Orloff mentioned that she has seen many patients, including the sensitive ones and the empaths, become burned out because they experience empathy overload. Some even fall to addictions, including food, sex, and substances just to numb themselves. In her practice of psychotherapy, some people consult her because they feel depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, and exhausted by the stress in their personal lives that gets aggravated by the non-stop stress of the world.

In 2018, a study was presented to the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. It showed that doctors have the highest rate of suicide compared to other professions. The report shows that 28 to 40 per 100,000 doctors commit suicide in the US. That is equivalent to 12.3 per 100,000 in the rate of the general population, according to medical platform WebMD. 

Doctors who commit suicide often have undertreated or untreated depression and other mental illnesses. New York-based Harlem Hospital Center’s study researcher Deepika Tanwar, MD, said that the findings are “surprising” when compared to those in the military. This is because those in the armed forces also have a “very stressful occupation.” The study revealed that the most common diagnoses of doctors are substance abuse, alcoholism, and mood disorders.

One study shows that depression affects about 12% of the male doctors and 19.5% of the female doctors. About 15 to 30% of medical students also have symptoms of depression.

Empathy in the Workplace

Meanwhile, in the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy study released by employee benefits administration technology provider BusinesSolver, it says that 91% of CEOs believe that empathy is directly connected to the company’s financial performance. Furthermore, 93% of employees admit that they are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. However, an increasing number of workers believe that their employer is not empathetic, leading to lost talent or organization because of the empathy gap.

While 72% of CEOs believe that the state of empathy in the workplace needs to evolve, 58% of CEOs struggle in consistently exhibiting empathy in the workplace.

Empathy leads to increased sales, referrals, and loyalty, accelerated productivity and innovation, expanded collaboration and engagement, and greater market value.

Dr. Orloff pointed out the importance of having mini-breaks as a way to take a few deep breaths and spend quiet time without attending to phone calls, over-stimulation, and demands / Photo by: fizkes via Shutterstock