compassion fatigue

How to Combat Compassion Fatigue

If you’re in an emotionally heady professional field, such as an EMT, a teacher, or a mom with several emotionally needy souls constantly hanging on your ankles all day long, chances are you’re going to feel emotionally exhausted sooner or later. 

This phenomenon — known as compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, or secondary traumatization — is extremely common. If you’re familiar with the feeling, feel free to read on in order to understand a bit more about this tricky emotional battle along with a few suggestions on how to manage things when it creeps into the picture. 

What is Compassion Fatigue?

It may sound cliche, but sometimes the most concise, effective definitions come straight out of the dictionary. Merriam Webster defines “compassion fatigue” in one of two ways. Medically, it is the emotional withdrawal, accompanied by mental and physical exhaustion, that takes place when someone cares for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time (and yes, we’re counting children as both sick and traumatized at various times, so moms, you count too!). 

The second definition expands on the concept, pointing out that compassion fatigue is “apathy or indifference toward the suffering of others” that can take place when we’re overly exposed to tragedy and pain — think the 24-hour news cycle or a nurse working around the clock who is suffering from burnout.

There are many symptoms of compassion fatigue, including common signs like:

  • Blaming others for their own suffering.
  • Complaining about your life or your work.
  • Poor self-care.
  • Stress, which can lead to further complications like muscle tension and weakened circulation.
  • Cutting one’s self off in a state of isolation.
  • Struggling to concentrate.
  • Overeating.

The list goes on and on. However, identifying that you’re suffering from compassion fatigue is just the beginning of the process. If you suspect that you are, indeed, dealing with a case of rampant apathy, the next step is to start to do something to remedy the situation.

Fight the Fatigue

Below are a few of the best ways to address compassion fatigue. Each one focuses on how you handle your situation and, while they can only be briefly mentioned here, are worth extra follow-up research before you adopt them into your lifestyle.

Address the Stress

Stress isn’t a bad thing, it just is. Therefore, you shouldn’t try to control it, but rather to manage it. There are many ways to address stress in your life. From deep breathing techniques to exercise and aromatherapy, look for ways to manage the stress that you endure on a daily basis.

Show Some Self-compassion

Proper self-care begins by cultivating true compassion towards yourself. While you shouldn’t use the self-care card as an excuse to do whatever you want, true self-care does require taking a step back, ditching those self-condemning thoughts, and caring for your basic needs in order to remain in tiptop condition to help those around you.

Set Emotional Boundaries

When you spend your life giving to others, it’s easy to give yourself into a corner. In order to avoid this naturally reoccurring trap, take the time to set boundaries within your life. Steadily remind yourself — in a non-narcissistic manner — that you’re a blessing to others and then consciously practice your completely reasonable right to say no from time to time.


As was pointed out in the second definition above, sometimes compassion fatigue can simply be a byproduct of too much exposure to negative events. Whether you spend your time tracking humanitarian crises or soaking in those secondary emotions from friends venting on Facebook, take some time to unplug from the social world once in a while in order to restore some sanity and strength.


While you should try to unplug from online social activities, it’s also a good idea to make an effort to actually socialize in the physical. Grab a cup of coffee with a friend. Go to a party. Set up a game night. One way or another, look for opportunities to talk, laugh, and socialize with others.

Find a Good Hobby

There’s nothing quite like a good hobby to serve as a balm of peace to your soul. From painting to woodworking, writing to reading, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, find something that you truly enjoy and then take it up as a non-pressurized hobby. No expectations, no deadlines, just pure, creative fun.

Keep a Journal

Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal is an excellent way to bring order and expression to an overburdened soul. It allows you to get things off of your chest, and can be an excellent outlet for your emotions that prevents you from bottling things up and, at the same time, won’t burden others around you.

Keep Up the Good Fight

There are many ways to detox from compassion fatigue. The important thing is that you take the time to slow down and consider the state of your emotions. If you feel that you’re struggling with a case of apathy, consider the suggestions above and then take steps to address your situation. 

After all, it’s only when you begin to do something about an ongoing problem that it can truly begin to be resolved.

Sam Bowman writes about people, tech, wellness and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.