Too Tired to Care?

Consequences of Compassion Fatigue in both Personal and Work Environments

Compassion refers to feelings of concern and sympathy for those experiencing hardship or misfortune, alongside a desire to reduce this suffering.

Compassion fatigue (often referred to as the ‘cost of caring’) involves emotional and physical exhaustion resulting from caring for those who are suffering. This impacts a person’s ability to empathise, and often links to burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Compassion fatigue impacts people personally and professionally, often including therapists and other healthcare workers.

An Individual lying in Bed

Signs of Compassion Fatigue

  • Loss of energy
  • Reduced empathy
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability and anger
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Numbness
  • Loss of interest and pleasure
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Increased substance use
  • Rumination
  • Self-blame
  • Sleep and appetite changes
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal
  • Decision-making difficulty
  • Lower stress tolerance
  • Lesser sense of accomplishment

Consequences of Compassion Fatigue

  • Impact on workplace and individual productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Impaired quality of care provided to consumers
  • Changes in worldview
  • Greater conflict within relationships
  • Physical health issues, including: headaches, stomach issues, weight fluctuation, and pain
  • Mental health issues, including: depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders


Addressing and Preventing Compassion Fatigue

  • Be mindful, reflective and learn to recognise the signs above
  • Develop a balance between personal and professional life, including:
    • Taking time off from work when neededA Women sitting by the window
    • Limiting completing professional tasks in your personal time
  • Monitor and evaluate your workload in line with personal capacity, i.e., limiting over-commitment
  • Set realistic expectations and goals (e.g., SMART goals)
  • Openly communicate and consult with your colleagues, e.g., peer consultation
  • Engage with relevant professional development opportunities
  • Actively practise self-care, for example:
    • Consistent sleep schedule
    • Balanced diet
    • Engaging with social supports
    • Attending to hobbies and interests
    • Exercise
    • Practising gratitude, e.g., using a gratitude journal
    • Mindfulness and meditation
    • Seeking professional help

Useful Resources

  • Reducing Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Burnout – A Trauma-Sensitive Workbook, 1st Edition (2020) – William Steele
  • The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for the Helping Professions, 3rd Edition (2016) – Thomas M. Skovholt, & Michelle Trotter-Mathison

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