Are you suffering from compassion fatigue?


If you are a professional caregiver you may be at risk for compassion fatigue: the emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion that overtakes your professional practice and undermines your ability to help and heal. Your gift of empathy makes you vulnerable to this occupational hazard.

Ongoing workplace pressures and exposure to suffering or traumatic events eventually can take their toll. Compassion fatigue is referred to by many names that also include burnout, vicarious traumatization, secondary traumatic stress, and empathy fatigue.

To find out if you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, read through some common signs listed below:

  1. Emotional signs
    • Bottled-up emotions that swing from suppressed feelings to unprovoked outbursts
    • Decreased empathy for others
    • Pervasive sad or depressed feelings that are not relieved
  2. Mental signs
    • Cynical, apathetic, or hopeless outlook
    • The overwhelming mental fatigue that leads to difficulty concentrating or accident proneness
    • Flashbacks or dreams of traumatic events
  3. Physical signs
    • Changes in appetite
    • Persistent ailments such as headaches, gastrointestinal upset, colds, allergies, or generalized aches and pains
    • Sleep disturbances that deplete energy
  4. Behavioral signs
    • Inattention to personal hygiene, grooming, or healthy self-care habits
    • Self-medicating with substances like drugs, alcohol, food, or tobacco
    • Chronic complaints, accompanied by feeling powerless to do anything
    • Withdrawal or avoidance of closeness in relationships
    • Work performance that is less productive, creative, or satisfying
    • Co-worker relationships that are less trusting, respectful, or cooperative

These fifteen items provide a snapshot of some consequences of professional caregiving.

If a few of these signs are present in your life, you may be experiencing some compassion fatigue. Nurture yourself and sustain your professional practice by regularly practicing self-care.

If any of these signs have become strong, defining characteristics of your life, take care of yourself. Look within for answers. Seek support and get help for your own health and healing.

For more specific information about the impact of caring on your life, complete a self-assessment known as the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL)  This highly regarded instrument is a valid and reliable source of information on how professional caregiving is affecting your life.