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Healthcare Industry August 25, 2022

3 Ways Healthcare Professionals Can Cope With Compassion Fatigue

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Written by Adaobi Oduenyi

Healthcare professionals, face a lot of stress on the job which can be due to long shifts, competing responsibilities, witnessing or hearing, or dealing with the trauma of other people day in and day out, which can take a toll on them as they navigate through their profession.

As healthcare personnel shortages intensify around the world, patients in need are not the only ones feeling the squeeze, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are seeing rises in cases, and resources are being stretched thin.

All of this can combine to make burnout more common among health care providers, and it also increases the likelihood of another affliction: Compassion Fatigue.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue often gets confused with burnout, which can misinterpret the causes of the issue and muddle the conversation about how to get out from under it

Compassion fatigue describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others, often through experiences of stress or trauma.

Compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout, which deals squarely with the work environment and the factors that tie into it, such as job satisfaction and interactions with co-workers.

Signs and Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

In a highly stressful environment, you may notice the following signs and symptoms in yourself or your coworkers:

  • Constantly feeling like you are on edge

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Exhaustion

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Impaired ability to care for patients and clients

  • Intrusive thoughts about patients and/or clients

  • Reduced enjoyment or satisfaction with work

  • Sense of lack of control or agency in your job

  • Feelings of disconnection from colleagues and work teams

  • Feelings of being overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done

  • Anger and irritability

  • Reduced ability to feel sympathy or empathy

  • Avoidance of reminders of upsetting experiences with patients

  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs

  • Because it can arise so abruptly, it can be important for healthcare professionals to protect themselves from this condition.

3 ways to prevent compassion fatigue from happening

Self-care and Stress Management

Get Physical

Ideally, several times each week, take part in activities you enjoy. Like walking or running, push-ups or sit-ups at home, dancing, or anything else you enjoy.

Sleep and eat well. If possible, get enough sleep or at least rest. Aim for 7 to 9

hours a night.

Eat healthy food and drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.

Avoid increasing the use of alcohol and other drugs.

“Compassion fatigue impacts a wide range of caregivers and professions. It is most common among professionals who work in a helping capacity. If you are a medical professional, therapist, first responder, nurse, or service provider of any kind, you may be more at risk for compassion fatigue.“

Have a support network

Stay in contact with loved ones, including family and friends. If you can't see them in person connect with them online using an online meeting platform that allows you to talk remotely with loved ones. Phone calls are helpful as well.

Turn to colleagues for contact and support at work. Even brief interactions are important. Remember that you are part of a team; you do not have to do it alone.

Process your experience, and reconnect to your values and priorities


Imagine that you are in a peaceful and calming place—a place you have been, or one where you would like to be. You may want to write a description of this place, record yourself reading what you have written, and then listen to the recording as a way to relax.

Progressive muscle relaxation

One sign of stress is tense muscles, which is why stress can lead to headaches, backaches, and exhaustion. One way to relieve muscle tension is to do progressive muscle relaxation, also known as the Jacobson relaxation technique. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a form of therapy that involves tightening and relaxing your muscle groups, one at a time, in a specific pattern.

Mindful movement such as yoga or tai chi. yoga and tai chi may help with stress management.


Meditation has many benefits, including reduced anxiety, depression, and

blood pressure, as well as insomnia relief. A session can be as short as a few minutes.

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Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can be an effective way to relax. You can try deep breathing, or breathing into and out of your abdominal area instead of from your chest. Imagine your breath going into and out of your belly as you breathe. Another option is the 4 7 8 technique.


Humour and laughter can help relieve stress and, if shared, build bonds between people. Seek out sources of humour that have made you laugh in the past, such as social media skit makers, comedy shows, movies, etc.

Journal writing or drawing

Write or draw in a journal if you find it helpful. This can be on paper, on a computer, or in an app. It can be as minimal as writing down one or two things you are grateful for a few times each week, or things you are pleased that you have accomplished.

Spiritual and religious practices

Some congregations and spiritual organizations are now offering online, live-streamed services and observances. Some are archiving services online. Participation in a religious or spiritual group can be helpful for meaning-making, reflection, and connection with a community.

When To Seek Professional Support

If you find yourself feeling emotionally vulnerable, significantly stressed, or overwhelmed, consider seeing a therapist who can help you process your feelings and implement strategies to help you combat compassion fatigue and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Remember that fighting compassion fatigue head-on could prove to be beneficial to both you and your patients. It is not selfish or weak but rather a means to continue doing the crucial work you have been trained to excel in. Learning more about compassion fatigue and what you can do about it really is the compassionate thing to do.

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