7 Telltale Signs Of Compassion Fatigue And What To Do About It.

Let’s be honest,  when we do our best to help another, there will be times when we experience immense hardship and pain—darkness that feels like it has no end. We  feel like we are at the bottom of the valley, unable to find our way back up. We find ourselves feeling weak, perhaps our voices are softer, our grip less strong, our body rigid and our movements slowed. We feel like we have little choice but to carry on. We can’t afford to rest and recover; instead, we have no choice but to keep going on auto-pilot. That’s us on compassion fatigue. It’s the weariness that can overtake us when we attempt to assist those in need. It can cause physical, emotional, and psychological exhaustion. To help us determine if we might be suffering from compassion fatigue, have a look at the warning signs.

1. Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in the face of patient suffering.

Those in a helping or healing profession, such as doctors, lawyers, therapists, first responders, or social service staff are particularly vulnerable to compassion fatigue. Sadly, some of those drawn to caregiving may come to the profession already suffering from compassion fatigue. This could be the result of witnessing a parent’s suffering in childhood and transferring that trauma into the workplace. Recognizing these links is key, and professionals should take the time to ground themselves through mantra, prayer, or therapy.


2. Suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms and headaches.

Compassion fatigue is commonly confused with burnout, which is a gradual accumulation of fatigue and discontentment. It is true that burnout is a factor in this type of exhaustion, yet the term compassion fatigue refers to a distinct experience, such as having to work in an overwhelming environment filled with long shifts and inadequate backing. Unlike burnout, from which we feel drained of energy, compassion fatigue tends to have more localized symptoms, such as headaches or stomach pains. Therefore, it is essential to take time for relaxation techniques like deep breathing or enjoy a soothing bath in epsom salts.

3. Reduced experiences with empathy and sensitivity.

This strain of exhaustion is often referred to as a secondary stress reaction, secondhand shock, secondary traumatic stress, or vicarious trauma — largely due to its association with occupations that frequently put us in upsetting environments. As we continually interact with such a tense setting, our senses can become dulled, including physical responses like tears which would ordinarily come in response to distress. It may be helpful to join support groups to recognize signs and share effective coping methods for addressing symptoms.


4. Experiencing notions of detachment, numbness and disconnection.

If it’s not managed, compassion fatigue significantly worsens our  health and well-being. We become more disconnected and less aware and even perceptive. Since our level of stress and how we feel about caregiving can change from day to day, it’s important to document these changes in a journal. Note Taking helps us check in with our emotions and identify patterns of our behavior. 


5. Becoming overwhelmed and exhausted by work demands.

Since we may feel dull and disconnected, be aware that our motor skills may be delayed which hinders our ability to respond to signals in your environment. We may not see the car coming or run a red light. A quick way to gain back your energy is a workout as simple as walking up the stairs or doing a 15-min pilates workout at home or at your desk. These quick exercises can become part of our regular self-care routine, coupled with Thai massages and facials if spa days or yoga sessions are out of the question.

6. Loss of interest in activities.

Exhaustion can also lead to quitting our hobbies because we find ourselves no more engaged, warm, and caring. Worst still, people may not want to be around us because of our low energy levels or lack of participation in conversations. Whatever happens, don’t stay in a slump, and call a friend who can provide the same level of care if not more.

7. Falling into despair and self-isolating.

When we are feeling the effects of compassion fatigue, one way to cope is to take some “me-time.” Maybe watch a funny or inspirational video on Youtube – J.K. Rowling’s amazing Harvard commencement speech is a great one to start with. But don’t forget to reach out to others, too – being alone for too long can actually do more harm than good, so make sure to connect with our community if you need some extra support.

As we all navigate these uncertain times, we look to the New Moon and the energy it brings. Know that the WomenWorld community is here for you — contact us through email, WhatsApp, or join us at one of our events. Let’s come together and use this time to Exchange, Empower and Evolve. Together.

We are stronger as one.

Alice Hlidkova is a copywriter and blog curator at Women World.