20 Signs You've Developed Compassion Fatigue and How to Deal With It | All Points North

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20 Signs You’ve Developed Compassion Fatigue and How to Deal With It

Written by Samantha Carter

While the modern world certainly comes with many conveniences, it also comes with its own unique stressors and challenges. Many of us are constantly bombarded with distressing news, overwhelming workloads, and the pressures of daily life.

For those who work in helping professions or provide care to others, the risk of experiencing compassion fatigue is particularly high.

Also known as secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue is a state of emotional exhaustion and burnout that can result from consistently caring for and empathizing with others who are suffering.

At All Points North, we understand the importance of addressing compassion fatigue and providing support for individuals who may be struggling. In this article, we’ll explore 20 signs that indicate you may have compassion fatigue and offer practical strategies for managing and overcoming it.

1. Emotional Exhaustion

Feeling drained and overwhelmed by the emotional and physical demands of caring for others can lead to compassion fatigue. While caring for others is a noble and essential aspect to a healthy, thriving community, it’s important to put on our own oxygen mask first.

In other words, it’s important to make sure that you’re tending to your own needs just as much (if not more) than you’re tending to others. If you find yourself constantly emotionally exhausted, it’s probably a sign you’re not taking care of yourself enough.

2. Reduced Empathy

Finding it increasingly difficult to connect with others’ emotions or feeling numb to their suffering is another sign of compassion fatigue. This version of “checking out” is often a last resort when we feel we have no other choice but to continue trudging along.

3. Increased Irritability

If you’re becoming easily agitated or frustrated, even over minor inconveniences, you’re likely at your wit’s end. This can be another sign of compassion fatigue and an indicator to tend to your personal self-care and mental health needs.

4. Persistent Sadness

Experiencing prolonged feelings of sadness or hopelessness, often without a clear cause, can be another indicator of compassion fatigue. Because compassion fatigue can be a difficult emotion to identify, we are often left feeling sad and depressed without fully understanding why.

5. Sleep Disturbances

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing frequent nightmares related to work or caregiving could be another sign of mental distress. If you deal with sleep disturbances regularly, you should speak to a health professional right away.

6. Physical Symptoms

Chronic headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments that may be stress-related can also be the result of compassion fatigue. However, it’s important to first check in with your doctor and rule out any physical causes.

7. Decreased Satisfaction

Feeling disillusioned or unfulfilled in your work or caregiving role, despite previous passion and dedication, could be another signal of compassion fatigue. Especially with demanding caregiving roles – both professional and personal – it’s important to take breaks and rest as often as needed.

8. Avoidance Behaviors

Avoiding situations or conversations related to work or caregiving to cope with overwhelming emotions might point to burnout. If you notice yourself dodging certain things regularly, you might want to reflect on the reasons why.

9. Increased Isolation

When people become emotionally spent, they begin withdrawing from social activities or relationships due to feelings of exhaustion or disconnection. It’s important to be aware if this is happening to you or others. It never hurts to reach out and ask if someone is doing okay. Sometimes, that looks like reaching out to yourself and being your own loving friend.

10. Hypervigilance

Constantly monitoring for signs of distress or danger in others, leading to heightened anxiety or stress, can be a surefire indicator of compassion fatigue. When it’s constantly your job to make sure everyone around you is surviving, it can be difficult to turn off your brain and relax.

11. Difficulty Setting Boundaries

Struggling to establish and maintain healthy boundaries with clients, patients, or loved ones could be another possible outcome of compassion fatigue. It’s important to take time to reflect on what your needs are and prioritize them with the people around you.

12. Loss of Meaning

Questioning the purpose or significance of your work or caregiving role, leading to feelings of emptiness or existential angst, can be another troubling way that compassion fatigue shows up in our lives. Of course, this can also be an indicator of other mental health issues. Therefore, it’s best to address it right away with a mental health professional.

13. Cognitive Distortions

Negative self-talk or distorted thinking patterns, such as self-blame or catastrophic thinking, are also possible manifestations of compassion fatigue.

14. Decreased Job Performance

Decline in work productivity, motivation, or engagement is often due to burnout and fatigue. If you find yourself slipping in your personal and professional roles, it may be worthwhile to spend some time exploring why.

15. Vicarious Trauma

Experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of exposure to others’ traumatic experiences can be a serious indicator and consequence of compassion fatigue. If this is happening to you, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

16. Mood Swings

Rapid shifts in mood, from irritability and frustration to sadness or apathy, can be the result of compassion fatigue or burnout.

17. Compassion Apathy

Feeling indifferent or detached from others’ suffering, leading to a decline in empathy and compassion, is a strong indicator of compassion fatigue. If you’re experiencing compassion apathy, it’s time to talk to someone about it.

18. Substance Abuse

Turning to alcohol, drugs, or other substances as a means of coping with stress or emotional pain, is one of the more severe ways that compassion fatigue can manifest. It’s important to remember that there are better ways of moving through life’s challenges and that help is available.

19. Self-Neglect

Sometimes compassion fatigue looks like ignoring your own physical and emotional needs in favor of prioritizing others’ well-being. This is a form of self-neglect that can have negative impacts on both you and others who might be in your care.

20. Cynicism and Resentment

Developing a cynical or resentful attitude towards clients, patients, or loved ones, can be an indicator of a breakdown in empathy and compassion. If you find yourself acting in ways you’re not proud of, it’s important to realize that getting help is a brave first step.

Dealing with Compassion Fatigue

If you recognize any of the signs mentioned above, it’s essential to take proactive steps to address compassion fatigue and prioritize your own well-being. Below are some practical strategies to help you cope.

Self-Care Practices

Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature.

Set Boundaries

Establish clear boundaries around your work or caregiving responsibilities and prioritize self-care without guilt. It’s important to remember that if you don’t take care of yourself there will be nothing left for anyone else at the end of the day.

Seek Support

Reach out to colleagues, friends, or family members for emotional support and validation.

Practice Mindfulness

Cultivate present-moment awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of your thoughts and emotions. By practicing mindfulness, we can have profound realizations that help shift our perspective and mindset as we move through difficult times.

Take Breaks

Schedule regular breaks throughout the day to rest and recharge, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Seek Professional Help

Consider seeking therapy or counseling to further explore and process your feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

Attend Support Groups

Connect with others who may be experiencing similar challenges through support groups or peer-led networks.

Practice Gratitude

Focus on the positive aspects of your work or caregiving role and express gratitude for the opportunity to make a difference in others’ lives.

Engage in Creative Outlets

Explore creative activities such as painting, writing, or music to express and process your emotions.

Take Time Off

As much as possible, take time off from work or caregiving responsibilities to rest and rejuvenate. By making this time for yourself, you will be able to better show up for others.

Beating the Compassion Fatigue Blues

Compassion fatigue is a common and understandable response to the emotional demands of modern life and caring for others. Still, it’s essential to recognize the signs to take proactive steps towards addressing it. By prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, seeking support, and accessing professional help when needed, you can effectively manage and overcome compassion fatigue. In turn, you can reclaim a sense of balance, fulfillment, and well-being in your life. You don’t have to navigate this journey alone—support is available, and help is only a phone call away.

Addressing Compassion Fatigue at All Points North

At All Points North, we offer a range of personalized services and programs designed to support individuals struggling with compassion fatigue and other mental health challenges. From residential treatment programs for addiction and mental health to personalized mental health programs for specialized cohorts such as the LGBTQIA+ community and veterans, we are committed to providing compassionate care tailored to your unique needs.

Whether you’re seeking psychotherapy, equine-assisted therapy, mindfulness training, or other forms of support, we’re here to help. Reach out today to explore how we can help you on your journey to healing and wellness.


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