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What is Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is experienced as a result of over-exposure with and/or over-identification with the suffering of another. It is referred to as vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress. Because we are compassionate souls, we long to fix the situation. When we can't change the reality, we become frustrated, angry, and in despair.

Signs of Compassion Fatigue

Physical Signs of Compassion Fatigue

  • Chronic physical ailments such as gastrointestinal problems and recurrent colds
  • Headaches
  • Weakened immune system
  • Exhaustion – feeling exhausted when you start your day, regardless of how much sleep or time off you have had.
  • Insomnia

Behavioral Signs of Compassion Fatigue

  • Bottled up emotions that may erupt in displays of anger or irritability
  • Substance abuse used to mask feelings
  • Poor self-care – neglecting personal hygiene and personal health issues
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Compromised care for the care receiver

Psychological Signs of Compassion Fatigue

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Isolation from others
  • Apathy, sad, no longer finds activities pleasurable
  • Negative self-image and self-doubt. Feelings of being a terrible caregiver
  • Anger, possibly at the care receiver, frequently followed by guilt
  • Depression
  • Reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy
  • Loss of hope

Preventing or Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

The first step to preventing or overcoming compassion fatigue is to recognize and acknowledge that you are a candidate for compassion fatigue or you may already be experiencing compassion fatigue Self-care begins with you educating yourself and choosing your attitude.

  • Be kind to yourself
  • Develop a healthy support system: people who contribute to your self-esteem, listen well, and will validate your feelings
  • Avoid negative individuals
  • Stay connected to the outside world with at least a phone call every day or outside activity every day
  • Ask yourself, “What difference does it make?” Reserve your energy for worthy causes. Choose your battles and your activities
  • Ask for help. People want to help. You need to let them know how they can help. Make a short list of specific tasks you need help with and share this list with family and friends
  • Consider professional counseling if necessary


There are many resources available to caregivers including: