Compassion Fatigue | The Negative Cost of Caring

compassion fatigue

About Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring. It is sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress (STS). According to the Professional Quality of Life Scale, burnout and secondary traumatic stress are two interwoven elements of compassion fatigue.

The Effects of Compassion Fatigue

Over time, healthcare professionals can find themselves struggling with their own responses to the trauma suffered by their patients. If not addressed, this can affect their physical and mental health, relationships, and overall work performance. Symptoms may frequently remain unnoticed, but may range from psychological issues such as dissociation, anger, anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares and feelings of powerlessness. Physical experiences may present themselves as nausea, headaches, general constriction, dizziness, and fainting spells. All are warning signs and need to be addressed or they will lead to health issues or burnout.

Hearing and witnessing the patient’s stories of abuse and trauma can weigh heavily on the professional, causing feelings of stress. Experts have found that self-care techniques both psychological and somatic can reduce susceptibility to the internalization of traumatic stress and compassion fatigue.

How to Recover

Reducing compassion fatigue can be as simple as working with the feelings which occur during the interactions with patients. It means checking with yourself, how your body feels or does not feel, giving yourself permission to take care of yourself. Taking a deep breath, moving and stretching, this helps in regulating your nervous system and decreasing the symptoms of stress.
Studies have shown that keeping a positive attitude toward life, having a sense of humor and focusing on all the good things in your life is extremely helpful. Additionally, finding a balance with your work and private life by finding a support system, regular supervision, the use of relaxation techniques and of course take that vacation you planned. Let go of the feeling that you don’t have the time for you!
Stay safe.