Figley (1993) defines compassion fatigue as: the natural consequence of behavior and emotions resulting from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other/person: the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person. Figley (1995) further defines compassion fatigue as: …state of exhaustion and dysfunction (biologically, psychologically, and socially) as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

Caregivers are not the only ones susceptible to compassion fatigue. Teachers, counselors, doctors, nurses, police officers, paramedics, social workers, armed forces, etc…. also get burned out from giving and giving and never or rarely taking for themselves. We get trapped in that constant feeling of not doing enough. So we do more, and it seems the more we do, the more there is to do. Does this sound familiar?

If we’re not careful, compassion fatigue can result in a negative attitude and detachment. It can adversely impact job performance, motivation, confidence, behavior, relationships with others, and the level of joy and happiness in our lives. Therefore, as we care for those around us, it’s important to be aware of our needs, too.

The following recommendations for healthy living can help us cope with compassion fatigue. It’s all about taking care of you!

  • Get 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Eat nutritious food
  • Exercise regularly
  • Make and keep your doctor’s appointments
  • Get counseling or therapy if warranted
  • Talk about your feelings with trusted friends or family
  • Read and/or write for understanding
  • Keep learning and exercising your mind
  • Maintain relationships with friends and family. If old relationships fade (which can naturally happen with long-term caregiving), forgive and move on. Find new people.
  • Join a social group or on-line community
  • Have some goofy fun on a regular basis (my good friend Carol Stewart taught me this one)

Are you burned out from giving? Has prolonged exposure to compassion stress left you numb? What do you do to cope?