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Prevention of Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue can become a hazard for the careers of those in a helper profession. It is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion and a decreased ability to feel empathy. Compassion fatigue is the result of overexposure to secondary trauma, and continuously being around trauma survivors. While it is a common occurrence in professions like first responders, medical workers, police officers, and more, there are ways you can prevent the onset of compassion fatigue. Because it can arise quickly, it is important for those in helping professions to protect themselves. Here are a few ways you can help manage and prevent compassion fatigue.

Education: What is Compassion Fatigue?

If you know you are at a higher risk of developing compassion fatigue, knowing how to spot the symptoms and signs is the first step in taking preventative measures. Compassion fatigue is the emotional and physical erosion that takes place from frequent contact with traumatized people. It is synonymous with burnout and secondary trauma, which are two components when developing the condition. Symptoms and signs of compassion fatigue are also similar to those of burnout and secondary trauma. Those symptoms include:

● Feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, and powerless when hearing others suffering

● Anger, irritability, and stress

● depersonalization

● Feeling exhausted or burnt out

● Diminished ability to feel empathy or compassion

● Poor work-life balance

● Feelings of detachment

Knowing these signs and checking in on yourself can help prevent the onset of compassion fatigue. If you are experiencing increased stress at home and work, you may be more susceptible to compassion fatigue, and need to take the necessary steps to help manage it.

Practicing Self-Care

While it is important to take care of others, it is also just as important to take care of yourself. Self-care is a critical opponent to protecting yourself from compassion fatigue, as to not neglect your own emotions and needs. People who practice self-care are less vulnerable to compassion fatigue because they are ensuring their needs are put first. Having a good work-life balance, eating regularly, having routine rest and sleep, and managing your emotions are good indicators of self-care.

Reduce Work Stress

Since compassion fatigue is the most common for individuals in a helping profession, such as therapists, first responders, social workers, and police officers, reducing work stress is crucial in combating compassion fatigue. For professional helpers, work stress can be addressed by the conditions of the work environment, client capacity, and making adjustments in the work schedule when needed. Permit yourself to take a day off of work if you need a break. For those in caregiving professions, it can be helpful to accept assistance from others to not bear the burden entirely on yourself. Overall, being aware of support resources and solutions will help in creating a positive work environment and reduce stress.

Set Emotional Boundaries

Empathy and compassion are two key components in any helping professional's career. It’s extremely important to set emotional boundaries to protect yourself. While it is challenging, try to remain compassionate and empathetic without becoming too emotionally involved in the pain of others. By setting emotional boundaries, you are recognizing that you are also a person with needs and emotions, while also maintaining a connection with those you are helping.

Seek Professional Help

There is no shame in needing a professional to help you manage compassion fatigue. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider seeing a therapist who can help implement strategies to prevent compassion fatigue.

1. Source: Good Therapy (2020) The Cost of Caring: 10 Ways to prevent Compassion Fatigue

2. Source: Karen Badger (2019) Preventing Compassion Fatigue

3. Source: Bonita Eby (2021) How to Prevent Compassion Fatigue

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