What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue often goes unnoticed when one is focused on the needs of others on a regular basis. As a result, this exhaustion leads to stress that can impact the ability to feel empathy or compassion for others. Sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress (STS) compassion fatigue can take its toll on a person’s overall wellbeing. 

Often confused with burnout, compassion fatigue has a more rapid onset while burnout tends to emerge over time. Compassion fatigue has a speedier recovery than burnout and, if recognized early, has less of a negative impact on the individual. 

What are the symptoms to look out for?

When physical and emotional exhaustion persists for a long time a caregiver may feel burdened, irritable, sad, hopeless, or helpless. Following on from this a caregiver may have difficulty sleeping. It becomes more likely and insomnia or nightmares may develop. Substance abuse can become an issue. Alcohol, drugs, overeating, or forgetting to eat is not uncommon for someone experiencing compassion fatigue. Consequently, as these symptoms arise it often gives way to even more symptoms. These may include headaches, emotional outbursts, a lack of concentration, feelings of self-contempt, or blaming their loved one or client. 

Your number one priority

Make sure you take care of yourself first. It has to be said. When you are involved in something as important as the care of another human being it is understandable for a compassionate and empathetic person to invest all their effort into their role as a carer. Part of caring involves ensuring the caregiver is healthy. Feelings of guilt may arise at first but the importance of taking time out to invest in yourself is essential if you are to keep compassion fatigue at bay. 

Self-care plan

Create a daily and weekly self-care plan. Include time to exercise, rest, connect with others, and have the necessary support you need in order to guard your wellbeing. Be sure to include a balanced and nutritious diet and include adequate time for leisure activities to reduce the risk of compassion fatigue. 

Healthy boundaries

Establish healthy boundaries in your life. Surround yourself with credible people who will uplift you and support you in your role. Know your capacity and limit yourself to what you know you can do. It is ok to ask for help and necessary to check in with yourself regularly to be sure your boundaries are protecting you and others. 

Develop skills and strategies

Include skills and strategies that will support your role. Practice meditation and journaling. Mindfulness and breathing exercises have numerous benefits. Incorporate outings that refill your tank. Include time outdoors in nature for the sunshine, fresh air, and, where possible, grounding for a boost to your wellbeing. 

Support System

Who is your support system? Check-in regularly with those who will hold you accountable for maintaining healthy habits. This will ensure you have a few key people keeping their eye on you and how you are doing. Seek help either in your friendship circle or professionally with a counselor, psychotherapist, or psychologist.