Over time, stress, burnout, potentially secondary traumatic stress, can all add up and turn into compassion fatigue, especially in healthcare professionals and first responders. Secondary traumatic stress (STS) and compassion fatigue share many symptoms, but they are not the same, as the prolonged nature of compassion fatigue sets it apart.
Definition of Compassion Fatigue
Banner Health defines Compassion Fatigue as a condition that “comes from helping others—you want to keep helping, but you’re overwhelmed from being exposed to the trauma of others.” You overuse your compassion for others and your skills at helping take care of people over time, leaving you with nothing left to give to yourself or your loved ones.
Signs & Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue
- Feelings of exhaustion, physically, mentally and/or emotionally
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness, irritability, anger, sadness
- Feeling numb
- Feeling decreased pleasure in activities you used to love or being detached from those activities
- Constantly thinking about the trauma you have witnessed and/or feeling anger towards those events or people
- Feeling you could have done more to help people or blaming yourself for their situation or trauma
- Feeling decreased levels of personal and/or professional accomplishment
- Experiencing a shift in your worldview or spirituality
- Experiencing physical symptoms like nausea and dizziness
- Experiencing behavioral symptoms like changes to your sleep and eating habits
Treating Compassion Fatigue
You cannot help others if you are running on empty. You have to prioritize your health, physically and mentally, so you can go on helping others.
- Take breaks or time off and when you have time off enjoy it! Disconnect from work. Allow yourself to relax. Plan ahead if necessary so you have activities that will help distract you if you need help disconnecting.
- Focus on your routines! Get the sleep you need, plan your meals and snacks if necessary to keep you eating regularly and making healthy choices whenever possible, exercise each day even if it’s stretching for 3 minutes before your next patient, and maintain your social relationships so you don’t end up isolating yourself without realizing it.
- Practice gratitude every day! Spend at least a couple of minutes looking at the positives in life. Write them down if that helps! Find the good in life even if it seems hidden currently.
- Focus on what you can control rather than focusing on what you can’t… this one is tough, but you cannot control everything and you have to be able to let go.
- Seek professional help if you need it! Therapy is a healthy practice for anyone, no matter their situation. Don’t shy away from any type of support you can get.