8/12/2021 | By Seniors Guide Staff

If you are a caregiver or your work requires you to deal with others’ trauma every day, you could experience a condition of constant exhaustion, desperation, and feelings of self-doubt. The condition is called compassion fatigue, and it is prevalent among healthcare professionals, counselors, paramedics, or anyone working directly with victims of trauma, disasters, or illness.

Compassion fatigue can even make it difficult for caregivers to feel empathy for their patients. One component of the condition is burnout, which is usually associated with too much work and too few resources to do it properly. Burnout can cause depression, anxiety, and exhaustion.

If you work in any field where you could be subjected to “empathy overload,” you should be aware of its symptoms and features.

Compassion fatigue symptoms

In many cases, the person affected by compassion fatigue doesn’t realize that it’s happening. If you observe any of the following symptoms in a spouse, friend, or colleague, letting them know could be essential to their mental health.

  • Loss of sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of self-doubt, failure, guilt, self-doubt, sadness, and powerlessness
  • Reduced sense of efficacy on the job
  • Feeling overwhelmed with obligations
  • Apathy and emotional numbness
  • Secretive addictions
  • Self-medicating in various ways
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Intrusive thoughts, dreams, or nightmares
  • Pessimism

What are the causes of compassion fatigue?

Caregivers typically love their work because it’s meaningful, but it can also be emotionally demanding. Those who work in healthcare want to help others and make a difference. Their compassion often fuels their drive to keep going under trying circumstances. Because of that, they need to maintain their ability to empathize. The following causes of compassion fatigue could result in them losing that ability.

  • Working in critical care: Critical care nurses face trauma every day, putting them at elevated risk of compassion fatigue. These nurses, probably more than most, need to take care of themselves and their minds to avoid losing compassion and empathy.
  • Oncology healthcare workers: Much like critical care nurses, those working with cancer patients tend to have higher rates of compassion exhaustion. The nurses and medical assistants who work with cancer patients see many deaths, affecting even the most compassionate and experienced healthcare worker.
  • Too little support: Healthcare workers who lacked peer support were more likely to experience compassion fatigue than those working within a strong, supportive team. While a spouse and friends can help you escape the trauma you see at work, your peers understand what you are going through and can help you process your sorrow confusion.
  • Stress at home: You will either recharge when you go home or have more stress added. If it’s the latter, it will worsen an already challenging job in healthcare. If you feel stressed even before your shift begins, identify and address the cause at home.

How can someone combat compassion fatigue?

If you’re looking for how to deal with compassion fatigue, recognize the signs: If you already know you are at risk for compassion fatigue, understanding its symptoms (listed above) can help you prevent and manage it if it crops up.

  • Take care of yourself: Practicing self-care is an essential step in protecting yourself against compassion fatigue. Many times, those who are constantly wrapped up in the needs of others forget about their needs. Proper self-care will look different for each person, but it should generally include:
  • Regular exercise
  • A healthful diet
  • Plenty of restful sleep
  • Appropriate work/life balance
  • Honoring emotional needs
  • Set emotional boundaries: The challenge of working with trauma is to remain empathetic and compassionate without becoming excessively involved and taking on someone else’s pain. Setting emotional boundaries allows you to keep a connection while still remembering that you are an individual with particular needs.
  • Get involved in outside activities: Maintaining a work-life balance is an excellent way to protect yourself from compassion fatigue. If you spend too much time working or thinking about it, you will become a prime candidate for burnout. Leisure activities and hobbies can help prevent that.
  • Create relationships outside of work: Having friends who are unaware of the pressures of your job can provide you with emotional relief.

If your career leaves you feeling emotionally vulnerable, stressed, or overwhelmed, these suggestions could help you combat compassion fatigue and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Related: The Emotional Side Effects of Caregiving

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff