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Compassion Fatigue: Healing the Healer

By Jane R. Shaw, DVM, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Argus Institute, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University

Compassion fatigue is deep physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion that can result from working day-to-day in a care giving environment. The natural response to this downward spiral is to work harder until there is nothing left to give, which is counter to the adaptive response of taking a break. The symptoms are the same as those of chronic stress and are a consequence of caring for the needs of others before caring for your own needs. 

Compassion fatigue results from a lack of daily self-care practices that create opportunities for you to reflect, refuel, and rejuvenate. The good news is that feeling compassion fatigue is a sign that you are a deeply caring person. When we care for ourselves, we can care for others from a place of abundance not scarcity. With development of healthy self-care routines, you can continue to successfully provide compassionate care to others.

Recognize the Signs of Compassion Fatigue

Signs of compassion fatigue: abuse of drugs, alcohol, food or sex; anger; blaming; depression; decreased sense of accomplishment; difficulty concentrating; exhaustion; headaches; gastrointestinal upset; hopelessness; hypertension; irritability; isolation from others; less ability to feel joy; low self-esteem; receiving and voicing complaints; sleep disturbances; and workaholism.

Create a Self-Care Plan

Recognizing the signs of compassion fatigue is the first step towards positive change and the second step is making a daily firm commitment to choices that lead to resiliency. Below are some suggestions to create a self-care plan:

When you are exhausted, adding these self-care activities into your life initially may seem overwhelming. Take baby steps by adding one at a time. As you start reaping the benefits, you will be able to take on more. You will slowly come back to yourself, feel more energetic and find satisfaction and fulfillment in your work once again. If you are not realizing progress, seek out professional support to assist you in getting back on track. It is vital to care for yourself, so that you can continue to care for others.


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