What Is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue describes a particular type of physical, emotional, and psychological stress that can impact individuals in caregiving roles or individuals within the health sector.

This type of fatigue is also referred to as secondary traumatic stress disorder or secondary stress reaction. Compassion fatigue is often linked to careers such as health care professionals, in-home carers, or mental health professionals, although compassion fatigue can impact anyone.

Compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout. Although burnout is one part of compassion fatigue, it’s crucial to understand that this type of fatigue is distinct and linked to additional symptoms. For example, compassion fatigue usually occurs suddenly, while burnout typically builds up over time.

At Leaf Complex Care, we understand that compassion fatigue can be an immensely challenging experience for people with caregiving roles. Hence, we strive to create safe environments where individuals can express their feelings and are supported in their roles.

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Signs of Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is a complex challenge, and individuals might experience some of the signs differently.

However, some signs tend to occur more often, including:

Physical Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue can lead to physical symptoms, including:

It’s crucial to note that not all individuals experiencing compassion fatigue will have the same symptoms. Additionally, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional when experiencing some of the compassion fatigue symptoms listed above.

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Causes of Compassion Fatigue

The main two causes of compassion fatigue are secondary trauma and burnout.

When individuals in caregiving roles or healthcare professionals experience prolonged exposure to intense, stressful situations without adequate resources and support for their own well-being, they can develop compassion fatigue.

Causes that might influence secondary traumatic stress and burnout include:

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Compassion fatigue is a normal response to experiencing stressful situations without adequate support. It is in no way a sign of weakness or incompetence.

Hence, individuals in healthcare roles should be aware of the increased risk of compassion fatigue, or compassion stress, to develop effective coping strategies and to ensure support is available.

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Psychological Impact of Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue can impact the overall psychological well-being of individuals and influence their day-to-day life.

Depersonalisation is another psychological impact of compassion fatigue. This refers to the sense of detachment or indifference towards other individuals and one’s work. Individuals experiencing emotional exhaustion might find it challenging to empathise and connect with others outside their work environment, also referred to as empathy fatigue.

Burnout and compassion fatigue are related, as burnout is a symptom of compassion fatigue, which can lead people to feel exhausted and with little motivation. The additional stress caused by compassion fatigue might also lead to symptoms of anxiety or depression. It’s crucial for healthcare providers to seek the same self-compassion they advise others and to ensure they receive support for their well-being.

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Managing Compassion Fatigue

Managing and overcoming compassion fatigue can be done through several coping strategies.

Self-care is one of the most crucial aspects of managing and preventing emotional exhaustion.

Examples of proactive self-care activities include:

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Having support from colleagues is also crucial in managing and preventing compassion fatigue.

Regular debriefing sessions, where healthcare providers can share their experiences, emotions, and challenges with each other in a safe and supportive environment, can be incredibly helpful. These sessions can help foster a sense of camaraderie, normalise the experiences of being overwhelmed, and provide an outlet for emotional release. Creating a culture of open communication and support within the workplace can go a long way in reducing the impact of compassion fatigue.

Early intervention is vital in addressing and preventing compassion fatigue from escalating into further mental health difficulties. Taking part in support groups or seeking therapy can help healthcare providers to process their emotions, gain insight, and receive guidance on managing compassion fatigue effectively.

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Leaf Complex Care Prioritise Self-Care for Clinicians and Support Workers

At Leaf Complex Care, our clinicians are our heroes.

We have the utmost respect for their dedication, strength, and commitment to improving the lives of the people we serve.

We understand the complexity of compassion fatigue and approach and prevent it with great responsibility and understanding. Caring for our team’s well-being and mental health is our constant focus. We always aim to create an environment where our clinicians feel supported, understood and empowered.

Leaf Complex Cared delivers complex care services across the UK, and you can find our offices in Bristol, Sloughthe Midlands and Somerset.

Contact us for further information.