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Compassion Fatigue and Stress Management

Updated on February 28, 2016

Compassion Fatigue - also known as the secondary traumatic stress disorder

Compassion Fatigue is a form of burnout due to constant stress and anxiety. This can happen to family, friends or professional caregivers who are responsible for those who are terminally ill. People in other professions who deal with victims of trauma, can also experience compassion fatigue. This includes lawyers, journalists, and relief workers. Caregiver health issues are a great concern.

For the last six years, I have been taking care of my father who had Alzheimer's, my mother who had a stroke, my partner,who is chronically ill, and my two special needs children. My parents lived in New York and I lived in California. When I was on one coast I worried about my family on the other coast. When we were all together I felt myself spinning out of control. Even after both my parents passed away, I still feel the guilt of not being with them more even though I couldn't have done anything else.

I knew I had hit a brick wall when the idea of doing fulfilling one more obligation immobilized me. My partner, kids and myself were supposed to prepare and serve a meal for fifty homeless men at a men's shelter. My partner was not feeling well and one of my kids had just had come out of a mental breakdown. I was at work trying to figure out how to take care of my family and still serve dinner at the homeless shelter by myself.

The night I finally admitted I couldn't do anymore and asked for help.

People who are typically at risk for Compassion Fatigue - Are you on this list?

If you are on this list (and find yourself with symptoms on the list below), you are probably suffering from Compassion Fatigue

  • Psychiatrists who treat war veterans
  • Aid workers who deal with victims of natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.)
  • Rescue workers such as those (9/11 firefighters and police, Oaklahoma City bombings).
  • Child advocates
  • Hospice workers
  • Caregivers - family, friends or professional workers
  • Animal rights advocates

Symptoms - Destructive behaviors such as:

Of course these symptoms can be signs of many problems, but if you also fall into a category from the previous list defining who is at risk, you should seriously consider changing your lifestyle.

  • Isolation
  • Compulsive habits such as overeating and gambling
  • Substance abuse
  • Stifling emotions
  • Ignoring personal problems
  • Apathy
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Emotional exhaustion

Know Your Limits

My father had Alzherimer's Disease and my mother took care of him for many years. She refused everyone's offer to help her. When he became too difficult for her to handle, we put him in a nursing home. I expected her to have a life of her own since she was free of her 24/7 caregiving responsibilities. She now had time to go out with her friends, play tennis and still see my father at the nursing home. But she only wanted to be with him.

The following two links are my Squidoo lenses about taking care of parents and how to select a nursing home.

The last link is to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.

Taking Care of Yourself - A few ways I like to take a break.

Eventually, my mother had a stroke. We put her in the same nursing home where she past away. I still feel grief and guilt about my mother's death. I know I didn't cause her death nor could I do anything to prevent it, but the feelings are still there. I also had the responsibility of caring for my father, but I couldn't do it. The nursing home was wonderful. I also hired a personal aide to give my father the extra care my mother would have wanted him to have. The responsibility of taking care of my father and the death of my mother created a lot of stress in my life.

My immediate family also had physical and mental health issues. My partner is chronically ill, I have two special needs kids, and I work full time. I felt I was losing myself. I searched for something to give me some relief from the stress and found Mah Jong and knitting. I also give myself a break from reality by reading or taking long walks.

The Media

Creating Apathy and Trauma

This lens has virtually no pictures. Any pictures that would qualify as a "Compassion Fatigue" type of picture would be difficult to see and can actually contribute to the condition. Therefore, I made a decision not to post any pictures.

The media, however, tends to create a culture of people who have become desensitized to such a degree that we have become apathetic and possibly traumatized by what we see and read on TV, magazines, books, and the Internet. We have watched the planes crash into the Twin Towers, watched people fall from them ,the buildings burn and then fall. How many times have we seen this? Too often.

We see people dying from Ebola. We watch people suffer and property destroyed due to natural disasters including tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and fires.We watch bodies of soldiers being dragged through streets and burned. And probably, worst of all, we get to see this as it is happening.

If we are not careful, these images will create secondary traumatic stress disorder in all of us.


You must take care of yourself. If you don't, you're no good to anyone else!

Get some respite care and find something fun to do.

Suggestions - Take a walk, go to lunch with friends, go bowling, go swimming,

You deserve a break. Take it!

Dr. Frank Ochburg answers the question "What is Compassion Fatigue?"

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project

This site describes Compassion Fatigue, helps you recognize the symptoms and a list of resources on how to take care of yourself.

Books on Compassion Fatigue

To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving
To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving

To Weep for a Stranger helps you identify identify what you are feeling as Compassion Fatigue and guides you into taking a path that is more healthy for the caregiver. Patricia Smith is the founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.

Transform Compassion Fatigue: How to Use Movement & Breath to Change Your Life
Transform Compassion Fatigue: How to Use Movement & Breath to Change Your Life

This is a good "how to" book. It explains how Compassion Fatigue affects your body and how to use a technique called FlowMotion to help you relax and feel relief.


Are You Sufferering from Compassion Fatigue - Tell us your story.

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    • MatijaB LM profile image

      MatijaB LM 5 years ago

      Thank good no, but anyway thanks for sharing these info.