The Heavy Toll of Compassion Fatigue

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Compassion fatigue may be a new term for you but it’s been around for a long time. It refers to a situation that can occur when people who take care of others as part of their jobs feel negative effects from constantly dealing with other people’s suffering. Over time, this can result in a form of burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Put simply, compassion fatigue occurs when helping others hurts you.

While compassion fatigue is often seen in caregiving professions like doctors, nurses, veterinarians, EMS, and similar professions, it affects many others. As we reflect on how life has changed since the pandemic, it’s easy to see how compassion fatigue has increased across the board. People were juggling working from home, teaching their children, and caring for family members and others, all of which can result in compassion fatigue.

You may not think of yourself as a caregiver but consider the work you do. For example, financial advisors help clients through life transitions including job loss, health issues, and the death of a spouse. Teachers, therapists, clergy, and many others, also regularly deal with the personal problems of other people. All of these individuals are susceptible to compassion fatigue.

What does compassion fatigue look like?

The signs of compassion fatigue include difficulty concentrating, insomnia, physical and mental fatigue, burying your emotions, feelings of hopelessness, frequent complaining about your work or your life, use of drugs or alcohol, overeating, poor self-care, and denial that anything is wrong.

If these signs sound familiar, you may want to complete the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) Scale. The ProQOL measure is a free tool for people who help others as part of their daily lives. The assessment is easy to complete and after rating each statement, you will receive a personal score. Based on that score, you will fall into one of three categories and the site provides additional insight into each. You can learn more about the tool by visiting

How can you address compassion fatigue?

There are proven techniques that can help you work through the symptoms of compassion fatigue. They are likely things you’ve heard before but may not have implemented because the key is finding time in your day to focus on you. The techniques include a healthy diet, exercise, hobbies, practicing gratitude, identifying a success story each day, and setting personal boundaries.

One technique that can be especially helpful is blocking out unnecessary information. We are bombarded with news every day on our TV, computers, tablets, and phones and this constant focus on the media can be exhausting. Take a break by turning off the TV, blocking newsfeeds from your phone, staying off of social media, and intentionally scheduling a time to put away electronic devices for a set period of time every day.

Caring for others is honorable, but there are limits to how much you can give. Success starts with a single step. If you can commit to trying one technique, it may provide the momentum to adopt another. Over time, that will help you continue to stay committed to caring for others while also caring for yourself.

If you are experiencing compassion fatigue or you are an employer and want to help your employees, contact me for a consultation.


Learn more

The impact of compassion fatigue is being felt by businesses large and small. I spoke with Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, on her podcast Breaking Money Silence.

Listen to the podcast to learn more about compassion fatigue, how it differs from burnout, and the impact on employees, business owners and businesses.