Compassion Fatigue

Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue, often referred to as secondary or vicarious trauma, is the emotional and physical exhaustion that results in a reduced ability to empathize or feel compassion for others. Healthcare workers, even the most dedicated, are prone to compassion fatigue.

Signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Irritability, anger, anxiety
  • Disturbances in sleep, such as insomnia or nightmares
  • Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
  • Reduced career fulfillment
  • Isolation
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Dreading care for another and subsequent guilt
  • Numbness, hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
  • Poor self-care
  • Denial, which can prevent individuals from recognizing the condition and seeking help

Self Assessment:

Denial has been noted to be one of the most dangerous symptoms of compassion fatigue.  Self assessments for Compassion Fatigue (ProQoL ), Life Stress and Empathy are available at:

What Can You Do to Manage or Prevent Compassion Fatigue:

  • Be kind to yourself and recognize what you DO.
  • Be proud of what you do and recognize limitations.
  • Evaluate boundaries, when it is appropriate to say no or set limits and delegate.  You don’t have to do it all!
  • Access coworkers as supports.
  • Use healthy coping strategies such as
    • talking to others who are supportive of you expressing your feelings and experiences
    • exercise
    • eat healthy
    • take breaks and get enough sleep
  • Seek professional help for significant and/or persistent distress.

Resources That Can Help: