As a healthcare professional, compassion fatigue, burnout, stress, and anxiety are potential effects of performing your day to day job. Being a professional caregiver requires a lot of time, patience, focus, and attention to detail. In this article, we’ll discuss what compassion and empathy fatigue are and some tips for recognizing and improving or avoiding the symptoms.
According to Mental Health America, empathy burnout is common when individuals spend so much of their emotional strength relating deeply to the problems and stress of others that they forget to care for themselves. “A high level of empathy is good, but without conscious skills to deal with it can lead you to empathy burnout.” It is emotionally exhausting and can result in a withdrawal from caring or feeling empathy for others.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
As defined by the American Institute of Stress, compassion fatigue is “the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.” These traumatic events can include severe or terminal illness, disability, injury, or combination.
Signs of stress or warning signs of compassion fatigue
- Self-isolation or increased risk-taking behavior
- Increased irritation, anger – potentially resulting in outbursts
- Feeling helpless or powerless
- Lack of motivation, emotional numbness
- Trouble sleeping
- Physical changes such as change in appetite, stomach issues, headaches, etc.
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things
Do note that compassion fatigue has a faster recovery if caught early, while burnout emerges over time. Both burnout and compassion fatigue are preventable, and the key is identifying your stressors and doing something about it.
Ways to Combat Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
- Talk To Someone – Share your needs, thoughts, and feelings with a professional or trusted friend or colleague.
- Stick to a Schedule – Schedule time for personal errands, self-care activities, rest, and to ensure you aren’t “overbooked”. Create routines to that help to regulate anxiety, stress, and allow time for restorative activities.
- You Are Not Alone – What you are experiencing is not uncommon, there are support systems and resources you can access.
- Exercise and Eat Well – Exercise can release endorphins, provide an emotional and stress relief activity, and can be a welcome distraction away from work. Healthy nutrition can also combat the physical toll stress can take on your body.
- Get Enough Sleep – Around 7-9 hours would help your body recuperate from daily stresses. Adequate sleep refreshes your mind and body, making you feel energized and ready to combat your daily challenges.
- Training and Tools – Complete online training and certification or learning opportunities for additional strategies, better patient care, communication, and professional best practices.
- Take A Break – Take a day off, or practice mindful movement, breathing or meditation. You can also seek out activities that make you laugh or take your mind off your day to day stress, such as art, drawing, journaling, or others.
Where to Go If You Need Help
The CDC, NAMI, and other organizations provide support and resources – please share and don’t hesitate to contact a professional for support. Below is a list of links from the CDC of resources and orgzanitions you can reach out to if you need information or assistance. Remember, you can’t our from an empty cup – take care of yourself!
If you’re concerned that you or someone in your household may harm themselves or someone else:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifelineexternal icon
- 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Chatexternal icon
- National Domestic Violence Hotlineexternal icon
- Call 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224
If you feel overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety:
- Disaster Distress Helplineexternal icon
- CALL or TEXT 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish)
If you need to find treatment or mental health providers in your area:
If you want more information on coping with stress and building resilience:
- CDC Coronavirus (COVID-19) Stress and Coping
- NIOSH Safety and Health Information for Healthcare Workers
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Preparednessexternal icon
- The Joint Commission Quick Safety: Developing resilience to combat nurse burnoutpdf iconexternal icon