Compassion fatigue occurs when someone takes on so much of the stress and suffering of those around them that they become exhausted. While it is common to people in helping professions, it may occur to anyone who is in a caregiving or emotionally supportive role.
Signs of compassion fatigue include:
- Isolating from others
- Physical problems due to stress or lack of self-care
- Outward focus rather than putting oneself first
- Using drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors to cope
- Feelings of depression or apathy
- Flashbacks, recurring nightmares, or intrusive thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating and loss of productivity
- Loss of hope or feeling like one’s contributions don’t matter
Some people are more susceptible to compassion fatigue. Common characteristics in those who develop the condition include:
- A history of being in a caregiver role from a young age
- Poor self-esteem or personal boundaries
- An inability to recognize their own limits
- Unresolved trauma
- Feeling obligated to put others first
Whether you are in a caring profession or are a caregiver for one or more family members, it’s essential to set limits, take breaks, and attend to your own wellbeing.
Simple self-care steps include:
- Focus on your physical self-care by getting enough sleep, exercising most days of the week, and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, such as meditation or a hobby
- Connect with supportive friends and family
- For caregivers: Ask other family members, friends, or neighbors to help with daily needs or seek assistance from an in-home care organization
Making self-care a priority and asking for help when it’s needed are key steps in recovering from compassion fatigue.