3 Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue


Many people struggle each day in this country and around the world, whether it be with poverty, sickness, or mental illness. Their troubles are chronic conditions of society that need an investment of time, energy, and other resources by those courageous and patient enough to do the job. As one of the professionals who has dedicated their lives to making their community a better place, you have probably seen a lot. Constantly being faced with the burdens of others can be exhausting, and understandably so. Emotional energy can be transferred between two people, and this exposure can empty your tank if you don’t take enough time to recharge and focus on your own needs. This familiar weariness is known as compassion fatigue.

Look Out for the Red Flags 

According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Program, compassion fatigue is “a broadly defined concept that can include emotional, physical, and spiritual distress in those providing care to another. It is associated with caregiving where people or animals are experiencing significant emotional or physical pain and suffering.” Witnessing heart-wrenching pain and suffering on a daily basis can be overwhelming and cause feelings of burnout. Some professionals start to express callousness over time. It can be easier to suppress the stress and anguish instead of dealing with it head-on. Others may show disinterest and disengagement in hobbies, social activities, and relationships.

Importantly, compassion fatigue can also increase a professional’s vulnerability to using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. Others develop behavioral addictions like gambling and workaholism. An addiction can seriously undermine your work performance by damaging your own physical and mental health. Helping others can be noble and honorable, but it is not easy. The following are some other symptoms you should be aware of:

  • Blaming others for their suffering
  • Isolating yourself and detaching from loved ones
  • Losing pleasure in life
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Experiencing nightmares and insomnia
  • Having physical and mental fatigue
  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Neglecting self-care
  • Going through sudden and extreme shifts in mood
  • Being pessimistic or cynical
  • Overeating

Triggers on the Job 

There are many career paths that involve aiding others. The top seven professions that center around caregiving or helping others are clinical mental health counseling, criminal justice, human services, nursing, psychology, public health, and social work. If you fall into one of these categories, you might be vulnerable to certain triggers on the job that can lead to compassion fatigue. Being aware of these situations or conditions that could trigger you can help you be mentally prepared to handle them better.

As a first responder – like a police officer, firefighter, EMT – you can be exposed to accident scenes involving gruesome trauma and graphic evidence. Your line of work may constantly involve threats of dangerous suspects or physical environments. As a clinician, your clients unload their emotional burdens onto you and could be going through severe issues. Sometimes, therapists themselves become the target of physical or verbal threats by clients. Nurses and doctors are always around sickness, grief, and death. Many professions that concern themselves with the afflictions of others are extremely demanding in terms of time on the job and the toll it takes on the body and mind.

It’s Time To Heal From Fatigue

If you find yourself relating to some of the warning signs described here, it’s time to take action and care for yourself. You might not see yourself as having a problem at all, though, which could be a problem in and of itself. It’s important to note here that denial can be a detrimental symptom of compassion fatigue because it prevents you from evaluating your exhaustion and stress. You need to take care of yourself if you are to do your job well. When your emotional cup is empty, you just don’t have any more to give; this is nothing to be ashamed about!

Like with addiction, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. There are some steps that you can take to recharge:

  • Prioritize breaks and vacations
  • Attend individual and group therapy
  • Be kind to yourself and make time for self-care
  • Instead of blaming the client, blame their situation
  • Set clear boundaries between work and your personal life
  • Find value in how you contribute to social betterment
  • Practice gratitude and focus on the good things in your life
  • Remind yourself daily of the reasons you got into the profession
  • Connect with other professionals and communicate how you feel
  • Learn to accept you cannot control all the suffering you’re faced with

Working in a line of work that is centered around helping or caring for others is no easy task. You are dedicated to making your community a better place. Every day, though, you are faced with other peoples’ burdens and pain. You’ve probably seen a lot, and after a while, it takes a toll on the mind and body. Exhaustion can set in and you start to not feel like yourself anymore. If you get to this point, you might have compassion fatigue. This means that you are experiencing emotional, physical, and spiritual distress that is impacting your work and personal life. Are you more callous now than you were before? Have you started overeating or drinking more during the week? It might be time to make time for you! You can’t keep pouring from an empty cup. Developing a self-care routine and engaging in therapy can help you recover. Call Sustain Recovery: (949) 407-9052.