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Understanding Compassion Fatigue

Picture of Comassion FatigueThe manifestation of compassion fatigue and burnout are an unfortunate consequence for many who provide caregiving to others and those who work in the mental health and health care professions. It is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time that expresses itself as emotional, spiritual and physical exhaustion. Individuals suffering from compassion fatigue experience psychological symptoms such as emotional exhaustion, frustration, hopelessness, poor concentration, irritability, sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. The psychological strain eventually expresses itself in behavioral symptoms: avoidance, isolation, tardiness, absenteeism, irritability, and alcohol or chemical abuse. As stress and compassion fatigue progress, physical symptoms begin to development and health begins to weaken. Physical symptoms may include rapid pulse, tension, insomnia, weakness, memory problems, aches and pains, gastrointestinal complaints, and hypertension. Caregivers must take special care of themselves to prevent experiencing compassion fatigue. Like a bank account, you can’t withdrawal what you haven’t deposited or eventually you will be overdrawn. A personal resiliency plan is your best defense. Here are a few positive steps you can take to help stay healthy as you provide care to others:

  • Be aware of the risks of compassion fatigue

  • Relax the muscles in your body

  • Build a mind-body connection

  • Keep good boundaries

  • Do something for yourself

  • Rest and get enough sleep

  • Breathe

  • Eat a balanced diet on a schedule

  • Have a support network

  • Be kind and gentle to yourself

  • Exercise . . . move your body

  • Dream, Journal, Affirm

  • Laugh

  • Play

  • Pray; enjoy quietness and pause for a moment; be mindful

  • Unplug and be still

  • Follow your heart

  • Know your limits

Compassion fatigue is a real and potentially dangerous condition. Being aware of the symptoms and taking steps to take care of yourself should give caregivers the knowledge they need to be successful and stay healthy.

By: Nichole May, LCPC