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Could you be experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue?

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

If you're like most professionals, your compassion is one of your greatest strengths. You give 110% to everything and everyone you care about. Then suddenly you hit a wall. You're exhausted, overwhelmed, and no matter what you do, you can't seem to get out from under it. This is exhaustion related to burnout or compassion fatigue. This real phenomenon can happen when we overextend ourselves. What can you do when compassion fatigue has taken over your life? This post will explore the definition of compassion fatigue, its symptoms, and how to find healing. So, if you're struggling with feelings of emptiness and burnout, read on! You are not alone. But First What is Burn Out? Burnout is experiencing extreme fatigue in your line of duty. You can quickly identify or pinpoint a stressor or link within the person's working environment as the reason for the burnout. When you are experiencing burnout, you no longer draw inspiration from things that excite you and your enthusiasm for whatever you do suddenly drops and you start having unpleasant thoughts. Factors That May Lead to Burnout

  • Long working hours with little rest when you do

  • You’re working on your own without delegating

  • Not taking a break to rejuvenate your strength

  • Having bottled up feelings that you are not willing to share with a trusted third party

  • Procrastinating and avoiding to acknowledge that you have a problem

  • Trying to behave like a perfectionist in the attempt not to damage your personality

  • Having to take work home instead of doing it the next day at work

  • Avoiding your hobbies and focusing on work only

What is Compassion Fatigue? Burnout and compassion fatigue have the same characteristics. Compassion fatigue occurs when you get preoccupied with dealing with trauma and the emotional stresses of other people you attend to as a professional. Compassion fatigue attributes its roots to you wanting to help others, but you become overwhelmed from being exposed to the trauma that you hear from your patients. Compassion fatigue brings about secondary trauma, and this is where you are affected emotionally and psychologically from being exposed to the traumatic details of your clients.

Signs and symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue


  • You start experiencing extreme fatigue

  • Anger takes over you.

  • Minor issues start frustrating you.

  • You become negative about everything and anything.

  • You start withdrawing from the things that used to interest you and the people who made your circle complete.

  • You start escaping fantasies- you will start feeling like you want to run away from your job to a place where you are alone. When the feeling of escaping fantasies starts overwhelming you, you may turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to do away with the pain you are feeling.

Compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is mainly associated with health care workers, first responders like firefighters, law enforcers, or even home caregivers. Still, all of us are at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue in recent times. Here are some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue:

  • Sadness and grief take over your mind.

  • You feel exhausted both physically and psychologically.

  • You develop a sense of resentment towards the people that cause suffering to your patients.

  • There will be self-blame for not doing enough to help those who are suffering.

  • You may begin experiencing a disturbance in both your sleep and appetite

  • You become afraid of working with some patients, or you start avoiding dealing with some of the patients.

  • The level of your empathy starts reducing towards the patient or the family of the patient.

  • In extreme circumstances, you may begin to become addicted To either drugs or alcohol in an attempt to do away with this feeling of compassion fatigue.

  • You may start having nightmares.

  • You may start Absconding duty or use your sick days at work even if you are not ill.

  • You may start experiencing changes in beliefs and develop weird assumptions.

  • You start being disinterested in intimacy and even start detaching from your partner.

How To Prevent and Treat Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

Burnout can take the joy you have in your career, friends, and family. Burnout can happen to anyone exposed to stressful situations, and the good news is that you can control burnout. With compassion fatigue, if you don’t address the symptoms of compassion fatigue in time, they may lead to mental health issues. Therefore, it is essential to try as much as possible to prevent compassion fatigue or treat it in its entirety.

Some of the mental conditions that may come about from compassion fatigue include Anxiety Depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. You should ensure that your psychological state is well cared for before helping other people with their psychological issues. Here is how you can deal with compassion fatigue:

  • Learn about compassion fatigue if you know you are likely to experience it as a healthcare practitioner. Knowing about the signs and symptoms will help you prevent them early, and you will know how to manage compassion fatigue when it arises. There are online self-assessment platforms. For example, when you rank six during the self-assessment test, your social invitations decline, and you are in a drained state. If you rank 7, it means you are worried about the well-being of other people, and at this point, you may be experiencing sleeplessness. Understanding these differences helps you develop strategies that will help you avoid the red zone.

  • It would be best to balance your professional life and your personal life. Always take a break from work when you have to.

  • Always maintain self-care routines. Have enough quality sleep time, Eat healthy foods, and exercise from time to time. Do not forget to nurture social relationships by honoring emotional needs. Self-care activities ensure that you do not overwork yourself, which is essential to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue.

  • Set emotional boundaries- setting emotional boundaries protects yourself, especially if you are a therapist, a nurse, or a social worker. Though you are setting emotional boundaries, remain supportive, compassionate, and empathic to your clients without getting involved deeply in their pain. Setting emotional boundaries helps you still connect with your clients while keeping in mind that you are a separate person from those you deal with whose emotions should not affect your feelings.

  • Avoid information overload, by taking too much information. Ignore how stressful and traumatic experiences affect you.

  • Identify your priorities and engage in activities that will rejuvenate you and refresh you. You can engage in outside hobbies, and taking all your time working or thinking causes burnout. Have time for leisure activities outside work to help you lower your stress level and improve your overall life satisfaction.

  • Have healthy friendships outside your workplace- Other than just having friends at your workplace, you equally need to cultivate healthy relationships outside your workplace. The reason is that co-workers are more likely to talk about work even when you are out of work. When connecting with friends who are not aware of the ins and outs of your workplace will give you professional and emotional relief.

  • Maintain a journal- maintaining a journal is the best way to relieve your work stress by ensuring you have time to release the emotions resulting from your workplace. A journal connects you back to thoughts and feelings, and self-awareness can easily prevent suppressing emotions.

  • Be resilient- when you are resilient, you can bounce back from stress and learn and cultivate resilience skills over time. Being resilient prevents you from having compassion fatigue because you become stronger emotionally when dealing with individuals with traumatic issues by ensuring that you can cope with your clients.

  • Use positive coping strategies- during burnout or compassion fatigue, there is a temptation to use drugs or alcohol to do away with these heavy emotions. The truth is that these substances may work against the intended purpose, and you may find that they are tripling your mental burnout. Ensure that you have a list of coping strategies when stressed. Some of the positive methods include meditation, taking a stroll, watching a movie, and having a relaxing hot bath, to mention a few.

  • Employ workplace strategies- workplace strategies can easily prevent compassion fatigue. Some of these beneficial workplace strategies include:

1). Having support groups at work that talk about compassion fatigue and other workplace challenges. 2). Having regular breaks to relieve job stress and burnout.

3). Having a counselor at work to take care of the mental health of all the employees

4). Have relaxation rooms at work, for example, massage and meditation classes.

  • Go for therapy- the moment you start feeling emotionally vulnerable, you should consider seeing a therapist. The therapist will help you to process your feelings and teach you strategies that will help you combat workplace stress and compassion fatigue.

  • Realize that suffering is part of human life, and you can never be in control of every situation that your patients table before you.

  • Only capitalize on the areas in which you comfortably have control. Do not have unrealistic expectations of wanting to change situations that are beyond repair.

  • Ask for help. When you feel stressed, it is essential to reach out to people and ask for help. Consider talking to friends or family members in such situations.

How Coaching Can Help Move Past Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Coaching plays a vital role in preventing and reducing burnout and compassion fatigue in the following ways.

  • Coaching helps you understand yourself better. A coach will help you know your strengths, weaknesses, values, goals, and aspirations. Coaching will help you change your behavior, work on being effective, and attain your goals. Behavioral changes and the change in your mindset can happen due to coaching.

  • Coaching helps you establish boundaries around your workplace. Coaches will give you the tactics to deal with the conflicts at work and how to say no in situations that demand so.

  • As a leader, coaching helps you in building self-awareness on how you can lead your staff effectively, and taking control and fostering behavioral changes within your employees to make your work easier.

  • Coaching helps you understand that self-care is an essential aspect of mental health. The coach will give you tactics to achieve self-care goals which are vital in dealing with clients who have had dramatic issues. The coach will leave you energized and ready for work.

  • Coaches help you not blame yourself for other people's situations. They do so by helping you build a more positive outlook; I'm connecting you to the reward at your place. When coaches make you feel that your impact at your workplace is gaining recognition, you are unlikely to suffer from compassion fatigue.

  • Coaching gives you essential techniques to increase your sense of accomplishment, engagement, and purpose, which is vital to combat burnout.

  • Coaching involves an interactive process of examining your fixed thoughts and the fixed circumstances you are going through. It also imparts you with knowledge of how you can question how your thoughts are leading you, how you perceive situations and events, and beliefs. A change of perspective enables you to make proper decisions and have control of your thoughts. You can move from reactivity to purposeful response when you exercise authority over your beliefs and ideas.

Final Take Away

Burnout and compassion fatigue are closely related to workplace challenges, and when they are not tamed, they are likely to affect your mental well-being. These workplace challenges share similar signs and symptoms, which you need to monitor closely to safeguard the well-being of an individual. Some of these signs and symptoms include frustration, anger, sadness, and grief, to mention a few. Attempting to help others without replenishing yourself can lead to compassion fatigue. Therefore, you must take the necessary steps to combat compassion fatigue when you see any signs indicating compassion fatigue. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, please reach out for help. I would be more than happy to chat with you and offer some suggestions tailored specifically to your situation. Thank you for reading this post, and I hope it has inspired you to take care of yourself first and foremost. Until next time!

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