Coping with compassion fatigue

Friday, June 14, 2019

As a nurse or caregiver, your primary goal is to provide the best quality of care to meet the needs of your clients and patients. Whilst often extremely fulfilling, this rewarding career can sometimes bring stressful periods where feelings of tiredness and sometimes ‘burnout’ can occur. While this is especially prominent within busy acute settings and hospital wards, those caring for dependents are equally at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue.


What is compassion fatigue? Compassion fatigue has been described as the ‘cost of caring’ for others in emotional and physical pain. When you overuse your compassion without taking time to regularly recharge, your perception of your ability to feel and care for others can become worn down. Signs you are suffering from compassion fatigue can include physical and emotional exhaustion, reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy, as well as increased anger and irritability.  If you are noticing these signs in yourself or someone you know, take a look at the steps below for help coping with the onset of compassion fatigue.


Spot the signs

Learn to recognise your own symptoms of compassion fatigue. Understanding your own moods and your natural reactions can help you to identify and explain when and why you are feeling unhappy and dissatisfied, acting as a crucial self ‘check-in’ process. It allows you to identify when compassion fatigue may be creeping in, giving you the ability to begin implementing strategies to cope at the most effective time before it worsens.



A common trait amongst caregivers and nurses is to put your own needs last. This can mean feeling guilty for taking additional time out of your schedule to focus on yourself and have some ‘me-time’. Whilst understandable, this can often be counterproductive – caring for yourself is vital to ensure you can effectively care for others. Self-care can mean different things to each individual. Whether it’s making time to exercise, having a massage or just a cup of tea with a friend – prioritise making time for yourself.


Keep a journal 

Taking the time to evaluate your work week can help with problem solving and working through your feelings, helping to prevent suppression of emotions, which can lead to compassion fatigue over time. Journaling is a great way to process and release emotions that may arise from your line of work and help you to spot any unhealthy patterns.


Cultivate your relationships outside of work

Time with family and friends can often be the first thing to go when we are pushed for time. However, maintaining a work-life balance can prove very effective in protecting you from the onset of compassion fatigue. Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of colleagues, friends, family and peers can help you see you don’t have to deal with this alone. 


Compassion fatigue is a common occurrence and nothing to be ashamed of, but it can sometimes lead on to more serious problems such as depression and anxiety. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, talk to your GP about options such as counselling. You can find useful information on support available to carers at the CarersWeek website.