February 20

How to deal with compassion fatigue

It’s been a while since I did a personal blog, but I was tired.

And that’s the very subject I am going to talk about in this blog.

It’s not just a physical tiredness I was experiencing. I didn’t really have a word for it until I was talking to another therapist at my job who was requesting counseling in her area. She described what she called “compassion fatigue.” I had never heard the term before and was baffled that it was even such a thing. I began to wonder if I was experiencing this as well so I decided to take a deep dive into finding out more about it and what it meant.

Compassion fatigue is experienced most often by those in caregiving or helping professions. It is a feeling of overwhelm from caring for those who rely on you or need your assistance. Your mental health begins to suffer, and you start feeling like you are drowning under the weight of responsibility. A lot of times, you might feel like you are going crazy. Some folks might use illicit drugs as a form of self-medication to cope. Others might begin to experience other mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression. Many might seek outside professional help to deal with it all.

But let’s talk about the other side of compassion fatigue. The one I was experiencing a few weeks ago. I had become so overwhelmed that I had went to the other extreme and developed a sense of apathy. When others would tell me their problems at work, I felt marked indifference to what they were saying. This deeply concerned me. Therapists are supposed to feel compassion. This is the reason why we got into this profession and what makes us great therapists. But compassion I lacked. It was in the tone of my voice, the lack of validation in what they were saying, or request for elaboration. I was “cold.” I had reached my limit and had not noticed it until I saw the signs.

So what do you do if you are in a helping profession and you start to feel either side of compassion fatigue? You engage in swift and intentional self-care. That could mean anything from talking a short walk after a brutal interaction, journaling, saying or writing self-affirmations, bubble bath, etc. For me, my self-care is writing. Like literally, writing this right now is healing. I do not mind being vulnerable and admitting that sometimes I lose my compassion for others. Just as long as I get it back. And I have. But I don’t want those in my line of work or other helping professions to beat themselves up when this happens to them. It’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t always mean you picked the wrong career, and you can get back up from this. You just have to re-charge your battery and find something that helps to uplift you.  

When I start to experience compassion fatigue at work, I take a mental health day. I think a lot of times people are scared to use their sick time if it is not for physical health reasons but your mental health is just as important. And both are connected. If you are feeling poor mentally this can cause you to feel physically ill and being physically ill can also impact your mental health. So, be proactive about addressing your compassion fatigue and give yourself some grace. You are not a super-human; you are just human. Everyone deserves a break.

Compassion fatigue can be overcome. You just need a little time to get yourself back on track. Then, you will notice that you will return to the stressful situation with even more vigor than before. We all have tremendous responsibilities that may involve people relying on us in our profession and/or personal life. And if this becomes stressful, we need to be ok with saying that we are not ok and need time to work it out within ourselves or get professional help. Awareness is key and thankfully those of us who are therapists have no lack in this and are usually able to get ahead of it.

Well, I hope this helped some who didn’t have a name for what they were going through to have a better understanding of what it was. You are not a bad person or therapist or doctor, or nurse, etc… you are just human. You will figure it out. I believe it even if you don’t.

Love and light,



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