What is Compassion Fatigue? Physical and Emotional Symptoms and How to Address Them  

Compassion Fatigue Symptoms

Exhausted healthcare workers are more likely to develop compassion fatigue. Not only can this impact a healthcare worker’s performance, but it might also impact how they feel about themselves. While it may seem and feel like a change in disposition, compassion fatigue can be reversed. You can also prevent compassion fatigue from reoccurring. 

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Put simply, compassion fatigue is when you develop negative feelings about helping other people at work. Sometimes it becomes harder to feel compassion for those you are assisting and feel energized and empowered at work. In addition, compassion fatigue may make you feel reluctant to care and give because you have been exposed to so much of other people’s trauma and suffering. 

Compassion Fatigue vs Burnout

Compassion fatigue includes burnout but has the additional twist of secondary stress from dealing directly with victims of trauma. The origins of burnout and compassion fatigue are different. If someone is suffering from burnout, it is usually from being overworked. If someone has compassion fatigue, they may feel burnt out, but they also have a reduced capacity for empathy as a direct result of their day-to-day work.

Compassion Fatigue Test for Caregivers

Your workplace may provide a formal test for compassion fatigue. Or, you can see if you, or the person you are concerned about, exhibit the following symptoms. 

Physical symptoms of compassion fatigue include: 

  • Exhaustion 
  • Headaches 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Digestive issues 

Emotional and mental symptoms of compassion fatigue include: 

  • Insomnia 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Feeling detached 
  • Shifting moods 
  • Pessimism 
  • Irritability and anger 

Those with compassion fatigue may also develop substance abuse problems in an attempt to deal with their condition. As a result, they may experience decreased quality of work, and the symptoms may also spread into their personal life. 

Want to explore a career in healthcare? Get started with your application by scheduling a 15 minute call with an ABES Advisor.

How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue

If you’re at risk of developing compassion fatigue, or if you already have it, there are things you can do to alleviate your stress, including: 

  • Setting boundaries: Be assertive about the boundaries between your personal and professional life. Also, set boundaries with patients and how much you can give them.  
  • Relying on your team: Social support at work and in your personal life is essential to avoiding and reducing compassion fatigue. Receive and get feedback from your peers and supervisor. 
  • Making space for self-care: Focus on unwinding and supporting your own health holistically: mind, body and spirit. 
  • Using mindfulness techniques: Mindfulness can help you handle the trauma you are exposed to. 
  • Taking a break from work: When possible, take a break from work. Although, taking a vacation is best, taking one day off can help, and reducing overtime can also be helpful. 
  • Seeking therapy: Professional support can go a long way to protect against and relieve compassion fatigue. 

Working in Healthcare

If you’re interested in helping others while accepting the associated physical and emotional risks, then you may be well suited to work in healthcare.  

Begin a rewarding career in your community with ABES College’s health care programs. Reach out to an advisor to discuss your future career in healthcare today.