Sick and Tired of Caring? You Might Have Compassion Fatigue

In a world where the news cycle runs 24/7 and we have more access to not only general information but deeply personal information of everyone around us through social media platforms - you might get to the end of the day and feel exhausted.

On top of the already hectic lives, daily stressors, and general challenges we all go through, feeling like you have to care or be concerned about what everyone else is going through can begin to feel like a huge chore. While these feelings are normal every now and then, if you find yourself feeling this way and unable to snap out of it, you might be experiencing compassion fatigue.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue isn’t a new concept. In fact, it's been an occupational concern for healthcare professionals, first responders, and police officers for some time. In the daily process of their jobs, these workers have to deal with more situations that require empathy and compassion as they support others experiencing trauma. Over time, this continuous exposure to other’s suffering can lead to deficits in workers capacity to feel empathy for their patients or those they’re responsible for.

This experience is referred to as compassion fatigue. The term was coined by established psychologist, therapist, educator and researcher, Dr.Charles Figley in the early 1980’s and has been defined as:

“A state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”


Now, when every traumatic event or situation that happens across the world, is recorded and shared across multiple platforms, it’s not just these professionals who are feeling the impact of compassion fatigue. It’s becoming a common experience for just about anyone.

3 signs you might have Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue can have physical, mental and emotional symptoms. While it can be characterised by a lack of compassion, three other key signs are:

1. Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion

Lack of energy, poor sleep, and decreased motivation are all signs of physical and emotional exhaustion. Over time, this chronic, stressed-out state can cause permanent damage to your health.

2. Feelings of depersonalisation

Depersonalisation can be characterised as a feeling of ‘numbness’, feeling like a robot or lacking control of your speech or movements. Depersonalisation can be emotional or physical numbness of your senses or responses to the world and others around you.

3. Denial

The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project states that "denial is one of the most detrimental symptoms" because it stops individuals from acknowledging how fatigued they really are and seeking the appropriate support and resources to overcome the experience.

Other symptoms may include:

  • low empathy
  • feelings of inequity in caregiving relationships
  • irritability and headaches
  • feelings of self-contempt
  • low job satisfaction

3 ways to overcome Compassion Fatigue

Like many stress-associated conditions, compassion fatigue itself is not fatal, but it can have a significant impact on your quality of life and sense of overall wellbeing. Developing strategies to prevent compassion fatigue is important for ensuring you don’t fall victim to the experience long term.

Here are three ways to do that:

1. Educate yourself

One of the key steps in overcoming any potentially stressful condition is to develop your education around the issue. Knowing the symptoms, triggers, and situations that can lead to compassion fatigue is a great first step. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project has excellent resources for this.

2. Develop your self-awareness

Once you have a better education around compassion fatigue, you can begin to see how it applies to you. Spend some time reflecting on the situations and triggers that show up in your life that cause you to feel fatigued in this way. Do you spend too much time on news sites or social media, or allow others to use you as their own personal ‘complaints’ department? Make a note when you feel compassion fatigue creeping in to better develop your awareness.

Create positive boundaries

Self-care is key, and creating positive boundaries that protect your sense of wellbeing is a core component of self-care. Boundaries help you to protect what feels ‘enough’ for you in your life. It creates space around what you are prepared to put up with and not put up with. This could look like setting time limits on social media, device-free days, or making more time for activities that fuel your wellbeing.

Take-away message

A little bit of compassion fatigue can be normal - and even expected - given our current world circumstances.

However, if you feel this experience is starting to take over your life and leaving you drained, then education, self-awareness and positive boundaries can all help you to prevent and overcome this chronic condition for a healthier and more balanced sense of wellbeing.

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