"I feel your pain." Caregivers and healthcare providers are in a unique position to "feel the pain" of other people. In fact some of the best caregivers and practitioners I know operate at a high level of empathy. Hey, isn't empathy supposed to be a part of caring for someone? Yes, but what about the effects of too much empathy on the caregiver.
When I was in full-time chiropractic practice I also cared very much for my patients. I felt great when they improved and rotten when they didn't. I feel I went the extra mile to do whatever was in my power to get them better. I listened to their stories of pain, illness and personal problems and sometimes took this "baggage" home.
This "taking on baggage" can be a serious problem. It can create a great deal of stress in your personal life. Fortunately there is some new attention given to the problem of empathy-related stress.
A recent study from the University of Leicester examined the effects of empathy on nurses. Researcher Jenny Watts indicated that nurses who have high levels of empathy are vulnerable to distress. This can produce symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, emotional detachment, flashbacks and even depression. The study goes on to recommend more detailed study of the problem so that interventions can be developed.
I know from experience that this can be a problem. It took a long time for me to reduce the stress associated with my practice and I could only reduce it to a certain point. The tools I had were meditation, exercise, and working to let things go. I would be excited to see more specific techniques given at an early stage in a caregiver's career to help to cope with empathy-related stress.
I am glad to see that this problem warrants some formal study. Awareness is the first step toward change.