Compassion Fatigue: Tips for Self-Care
Posted on 04/06/2020

News stories. Social media posts. Requests for donations. Pleas to support local restaurants and businesses. Sanitizing. Grocery shopping. Homeschooling. Finding toilet paper (!) The demands on our attention and energies are endless as the coronavirus pandemic progresses. Those who work in essential positions and health care may feel even more demands.

 As a result, many people may be experiencing “compassion fatigue,” also called Secondary Traumatic Stress. It’s a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others. As Dr. Amit Sood writes, “We are inundated with graphic images of the unimaginable suffering of millions. We can fathom the suffering of a few, but a million becomes a statistic that numbs us.” While health care workers and others who work or volunteer with vulnerable populations may be used to the presence of some of these feelings, it may be uncommon for the rest of us.

 Even Mother Teresa recognized the emotional toll that compassion fatigue can take. She required her nuns to take a full year off from their duties every four to five years to allow them to heal from the effects of their caregiving work.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
  • Blaming others for their suffering
  • Isolating yourself
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Overeating or the excessive use of drugs or alcohol
  • Poor self-care

A widely-used tool for determining your potential for developing compassion fatigue is the Professional Quality of Life (PROQOL) assessment, developed by a leading researcher on the condition.

Accepting the presence of compassion fatigue in your life validates the fact that you are a deeply caring individual. Here are some self-care steps to get relief: 

  • Disconnect from work or the source of your discomfort
  • Limit exposure to news and social media
  • Stay hydrated, eat a nutritious diet, and get restful sleep
  • Exercise or spend time on a socially-distant hobby
  • Spend time in nature, e.g., in a park or by a body of water
  • Vent to a trusted friend or family member who is a good listener
  • Spend time with friends via FaceTime, Zoom, or other online hangouts

If your condition becomes unmanageable, seek the guidance of a professional therapist or counselor.