Compassion Fatigue: What is it, What Causes it, and How Can you Overcome it?

Compassion Fatigue: What is it, What Causes it, and How Can you Overcome it?

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is the emotional and physical exhaustion that can affect people in caregiving professions over time. It can happen to healthcare workers, therapists, social workers, teachers, and others who empathize closely with people in need on a regular basis.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

  • Feeling emotionally drained or overwhelmed
  • Physical ailments like headaches, stomach pain, muscle tension
  • Difficulty sleeping or changes in appetite
  • Lack of joy, irritability, cynicism
  • Feeling ineffective and unaccomplished

Causes of Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue usually occurs over time when someone is exposed regularly to others’ trauma and suffering. Repeated empathizing and carrying other people’s burdens can wear down caregivers’ ability to cope and recover.

Risk Factors for Compassion Fatigue

  • Working directly with those suffering trauma, abuse, illness, etc
  • Long work hours with little self-care or personal time
  • Taking work problems home or to heart
  • Past personal trauma or mental health issues

How to Prevent and Address Compassion Fatigue

  • Practice self-care through healthy habits
  • Set work-life boundaries and take breaks
  • Find support through counseling or peer groups
  • Adjust workload if possible
  • Engage in activities that spark joy


How do you know if you have compassion fatigue?

Signs include feeling emotionally drained, irritable or cynical towards work, having trouble sleeping or eating, and physical issues like headaches or stomachaches. If your ability to empathize is declining, it may be compassion fatigue.

Can compassion fatigue last for years?

Yes, compassion fatigue can build up over many years if not addressed. That’s why it’s so important for caregivers and helping professionals to practice ongoing self-care and know when they need a break or extra support.

Is there a test for compassion fatigue?

There are compassion satisfaction and fatigue self-tests that can measure your risk level based on your exposure to trauma, your coping abilities, work-life balance, and current symptoms. These tests help assess how close you may be to burnout.

Can you ever recover from compassion fatigue?

Yes, with increased self-care, proper workload balance, boundaries, counseling support, or taking time off, you can recover and heal from compassion fatigue. But you have to prioritize recovery – otherwise the exhaustion can return.

What happens if you ignore compassion fatigue?

Ignoring growing compassion fatigue for too long can lead to more severe burnout, cynicism, ineffective caregiving, personal problems, chronic exhaustion, and even leaving your profession altogether. That’s why early prevention and support are crucial.