What Is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is typically described as emotional, psychological and physical fatigue (or exhaustion) experienced by helping professionals and caregivers that goes beyond normal stress.


Compassion fatigue is when the needs of those being cared for continually take priority over the helper’s personal needs and self-care.


Sounds like a bit of a paradox, right? The very qualities of a helping professional, such as deep empathy and desire to help others, are the contributing factors that allow her/him to willingly place their own needs secondary to others.


But compassion fatigue isn’t something that only affects professional helpers. People in “informal” caregiving roles are just as likely to experience compassion fatigue. In fact, caregivers may be more at risk because often they unaware they of how the continual need to support another person (or animals) takes away from their own well-being. Often informal caregivers can feel burdened or obligated to their caregiving roles and perceive there is no way out!


The most significant problem for caregivers experiencing compassion fatigue is the toll it takes on their empathy for self and others. Untreated compassion fatigue can lead to dire consequences like severe health problems and job burnout.


What are some of the common signs of compassion fatigue?

  • Mentally and physical tired most of the time

  • Preoccupied with thoughts of work/caregiving

  • Poor or little to no self-care

  • Depersonalizing those being taken care of (such as patients, clients) and seeing them more as objects

  • Greater irritability

  • Difficulty managing stress of simple or everyday work tasks


If any of the above sound familiar, chances are compassion fatigue is affecting you. Surprised by this? It’s very common for helping professionals and caregivers to be unaware of how their helping is impacting them because they’re focused on others.


If you think compassion fatigue is “just what happens or comes with the territory”, there are serious long-term consequences when compassion fatigue goes unchecked.

  • Increased rates of stress that impact daily living and job performance

  • Experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • New symptoms of dis-ease in the body or worsening of physical health problems

  • Poor family relationships and difficulty parenting

  • Social isolation

  • Job burnout


What can you do if compassion fatigue is happening in your life?

Don’t tell yourself it’s all in your head because it isn’t!

Create a practical ‘to-do’ well-being plan to address the signs and symptoms!

Know that you’re not alone and recovery from compassion fatigue is possible.

Seek professional support to stay healthy, active and prevent burnout.



Dr. Erika McElroy

Smooth Rock Psychological Services, LLC


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