What is Compassion Fatigue? Thumbnail

Exposure to others’ suffering can have a huge impact on any caregiver.

Compassion Fatigue

According to the American Institute of Stress, compassion fatigue, also known as vicarious or secondary trauma, is “the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events” which can be singular or cumulative (Batson, 2011). Exposure to others’ suffering can have a huge impact on the caregiver. 

People who are at an increased risk of experiencing compassion fatigue include people in helping professions such as:

  • Social Workers
  • Case Workers
  • Therapists
  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Nurse Aides
  • Caregivers - such as an adult daughter caring for her elderly mother, a person caring for her terminally ill partner, or an adult daughter with her own family and taking care of her elderly parent are other examples of people at higher risk for experiencing compassion fatigue. 

Compassion fatigue symptoms include:

  • Emotional, Mental and Physical Exhaustion
  • Increased Isolation from Others
  • Reduced Sense of Meaning or Purpose
  • Apathy
  • Feeling Disconnected from Others or Themselves
  • Sleep Difficulties
  • Increased Emotional Reactivity
  • Brain Fog
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • A Sense of Losing their Identity and What’s Important
  • Feeling Bad about Themselves
  • Anger Towards the Person or Causal Events

If left untreated, compassion fatigue has the potential to develop into major illnesses including clinical depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. It can also wreak havoc on your physical health including your immune system.

A person experiencing compassion fatigue may feel and behave more negatively such as complaining to their coworkers or families, and begin to neglect themselves and self-care. They may misuse or overuse alcohol or other substances or take up smoking. People with compassion fatigue may experience a strong urge to make a drastic change in order to flee the situation and alleviate their symptoms such as a career change or moving. This is most often not the answer and may make things worse (Batson, 2011).

Compassion fatigue has a quick onset, however, if caught and treated early, it can be recovered from (Batson, 2011). One of the biggest alleviators for compassion fatigue is taking a break from the stressor. Taking time off to rest, come back to yourself, and reset can help you recover from compassion fatigue much faster. 

Other ways to recover include:

  • Reaching out. Talk to someone such as a supportive family member, friend or a therapist.
  • Take care of your body. Get enough sleep, incorporate healthy foods in your diet, and move your body often whether that’s exercising, taking a walk, or increasing your steps.
  • Making time to unwind each day. Have some alone time to decompress and do what you want to do.
  • Remembering to stay in the day. Set limits for yourself each day. Ask for help and delegate tasks when you need it.
  • Regularly participating in an enjoyable activity that’s just for you. This could be taking a walk in the park, watching your favorite show, reading a book, listening to your favorite music, playing a sport or drawing. Having an outlet gives you a regular break from caregiving which reduces stress, improves mood, and promotes a general sense of wellbeing. Pencil this time in your calendar as an appointment each week to make it a priority.

If you’ve tried alleviating your symptoms on your own and you’re not getting any better or you’re feeling worse, consider talking to a therapist who can help. If you’re experiencing any thoughts of death or suicide, please call or text The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

Ready to Talk?
At CHE Behavioral Services, we are committed to helping those who are struggling from compassion fatigue, burnout and more. We offer online talk therapy and medication management designed to help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Our licensed mental health professionals work with clients to create personalized treatment plans that meet their unique needs and goals.

For more information about talk therapy at CHE, please call 888-515-3834. We are ready to talk and ready to listen.

Work Cited
Batson, Joseph. “Compassion Fatigue - the American Institute of Stress.” The American Institute of Stress, 2011, www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue.

Makenzie Pacubas, MSW, LCSW
CHE Quality Assurance Associate

Makenzie is a clinical social worker who has worked in the mental health field for over a decade and now works in clinical quality assurance with CHE Behavioral Health Services. Makenzie lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her partner, Justin, and their three pets. She likes music, singing, art, exercise, reading, getting outdoors, and trying new restaurants.