4 Signs You're Dealing with Compassion Fatigue — and 3 Ways to Cope

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 19, 2024 at 2:46AM UTC

In a study conducted by Lattice, 90% of HR professionals said they were feeling more stressed than they had been the previous year. Meanwhile, another study found that nearly 87% of emergency response personnel reported experiencing compassion fatigue after coping with “highly distressing” events.

Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon that individuals who work in so-called “helping” professions experience — healthcare professionals (including mental and physical health workers), social workers, clergy, educators, HR professionals, and so on. 

Because listening to and empathizing with the pain of clients or patients is intrinsic to their jobs, they can become increasingly affected by the weight of carrying others’ problems. 

“It’s like a dark cloud that hangs over your head, goes wherever you go and invades your thoughts,” Charles R. Figley, the Traumatology Institute at Tulane University, said.

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue? Here are four signs it’s affecting your work and life — and how to cope.

4 signs you’re experiencing compassion fatigue

1. Your moods are up and down.

Mood swings are a classic symptom of compassion fatigue. You may be feeling fine at one point, but later, you could feel irritable or upset. Or, you may just constantly feel down and cynical about the present and future.

2. The lines are blurred between your personal and professional lives.

You’re having trouble separating your personal and work lives. When you’re at home, you’re thinking about clients, patients or others whose problems you’re constantly exposed to. This is taking a toll on your personal life.

3. You find yourself feeling distant from your friends and family members.

Similarly, you’re having trouble connecting with friends and family members. You find yourself withdrawing from others, avoiding social opportunities and generally feeling distant from people in your life, even the people closest to you. 

4. Your productivity is suffering.

Because of the difficult feelings you’re experiencing, you’re having trouble concentrating on your work. The stress is taking a toll on your mental and physical health — and perhaps you’re having trouble sleeping, too. It may be affecting your memory, too, which is also impacting your focus at work.

3 Ways to cope if you're experiencing compassion fatigue.

1. Use your PTO — all of it.

Too many people let their paid time off (PTO) go to waste. But it’s critical to use all your vacation time and personal days for your own health and wellness. Not only is leaving PTO on the table bad for your wellbeing, but it could also affect your ability to do your job. So, make the most of this time, and DON’T feel guilty about using it.

2. Prioritize your own well-being.

You absolutely must take care of yourself before you attempt to take care of others, whether that’s in your work or personal life. This isn’t just limited to self-care activities — which, of course, are important — but also everyday issues like getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet. Unless you take good care of yourself, you won’t be able to health others.

3. Seek professional help.

People who are caregivers for a living may have trouble admitting when they themselves need help. But there’s no shame in seeking out assistance from other helping professionals. In fact, it demonstrates professional maturity to know when you need to talk to someone else. No one expects you to shoulder the emotional burden on your own — and you shouldn’t put that pressure on yourself, either.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for coping with compassion fatigue? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

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