How to Deal With Compassion Fatigue When You’re Emotionally Drained

Rachel Sharpe

Compassion fatigue occurs when we have to stay compassionate for long periods of time for people who are struggling. It is most commonly experienced by caregivers, such as nurses and therapists who are required to put on a happy face when they’re being emotionally drained all day long. In this article, we’ll share how to deal with compassion fatigue in 13 different ways so you can be kind to yourself too. 

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How to Deal With Compassion Fatigue

1. Note changes in your mood

The first step for dealing with compassion fatigue is to notice changes in your mood. It’s very common to suddenly feel irritable when working stressful jobs, such as nursing, therapy, or any other type of caregiver role. If you find yourself beginning to feel tense, take a moment alone to do some deep breathing exercises and collect yourself. 

If you begin to notice irritability, anger, or any other negative emotion arise frequently, it’s possible that you’re suffering from compassion fatigue. Knowing that you have it is the first sign to be able to treat it. And if you find yourself with compassion fatigue, remember that it’s because you’re a good and caring person, who needs to be cared for too. People don’t develop compassion fatigue if they’re never kind, caring, or supportive of other people.

After determining that you’re suffering from this type of fatigue, tell someone. You could tell your boss, a coworker, a therapist, or your spouse. People who are going through the process with you may be able to suggest some tools and coping strategies that have worked well for them. If you don’t get a compassionate response from them, ask someone for support. Not everyone provides emotional support in the same way. 

compassion fatigue

2. Prioritize yourself 

Now that you know you have compassion fatigue, it’s time to take care of yourself. You could plan a quick vacation (could be locally if you find that you’re needed nearby). Or you could try self care ideas. Ultimately, you need to show up for yourself. That means, leaving your work at work or separating your role as a caregiver to your parents and your home life.

Self care can come in many forms. It could be everything from joining a forum to share your frustrations on your caregiver burnout to booking a massage to relieve the tension in your body from taking care of people all day. 

3. Take breaks from caregiving

When caregiving is your full-time job it can be hard to take breaks in between patients. However, you should still take them to decompress when they happen. Use the time to watch funny videos, try a guided meditation for burnout, or chat with a friend.

If the person you’re caring for is a family member, take turns to provide care with other family members. A sibling, spouse, or close relative can swap turns to take care of the loved one. 

Compassion fatigue often arises when you need to put on a happy face when someone is not in a happy place. If a loved one is battling cancer or Alzheimers’ it can be hard to watch them deteriorate. It’s normal to feel conflicted, too. If you have adult children who can provide support so you can take a break every now and then, let them take the reins.

Taking the time to eat, shower, and sleep is crucial to ensure that you recharge your batteries so you can continue to be the loving and kind person you naturally are. 

caregiver burnout

4. Find a caregiver support group

There are caregiver support groups for a wide range of illnesses, so you can get the support you need to deal with compassion fatigue. For example, if your spouse got into a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, there may be noticeable changes in their personality from before and after the accident. 

Connecting with people who went through or are going through the same thing will help you know what to expect and look for as the people you care for suffer (or get better) too. Many people turn to forums when people are diagnosed with terminal illnesses to learn what the process is like and what to expect. Knowing what’s coming around the corner can help you accept the process, recharge your caregiving batteries, and combat compassion fatigue.

It’s always difficult to watch someone you love in pain or depressed. So, connecting with others in the same situation will allow you all to vent your frustrations and know you’re not alone. 

5. Speak with a therapist

You can find a therapist if you’re struggling with compassion fatigue. Even therapists connect with other therapists when they’re struggling with being compassionate.

Consider scheduling appointments with a therapist on an ongoing basis. You’ve got a tough job. Caring for another person when they’re not doing well isn’t easy. It can be hard to watch someone get worse with time. It can also be hard to be positive and cheerful when everyone around you is in physical or emotional pain.

Most workplaces offer therapy in their insurance plans, so take advantage of any therapy sessions you can as you provide care for others and experience compassion fatigue. You can even ask your therapist how they cope with compassion fatigue in their role.

find a therapist

6. Find a fun hobby

Disconnecting from your role as a caregiver and doing something for yourself is crucial for overcoming compassion fatigue. What things do you enjoy doing? Can you marathon your favorite show with a bucket of popcorn in hand? Maybe taking the time to enjoy a relaxing dinner at your favorite restaurant can help you unwind and enjoy a night out. 

Taking the time to do something for you that doesn’t require you to be supportive of someone else can be a highly relaxing experience. For example, learning a solo sport, instrument, or taking a boxing class can be a fun way to release your emotions in a healthy way. A punching bag will allow you to release the pent up stress in your body. Learning a new skill will allow you to shut off your thoughts and experience a flow state. 

7. Take care of your physical health

Speaking of boxing, there are so many physical activities you can do to release endorphins to overcome compassion fatigue. If you do a lot of physical activity during the work day, such as a nurse at a nursing home, you might feel less enthusiastic about doing more physical activity. 

However, if you find yourself sitting or standing most of the day, running, dancing, martial arts, or weight lifting could all be fulfilling physical activities that help you get your frustrations out, without taking your frustrations out on anybody. 

When your body is in fight or flight mode due to the day’s stresses, it’s scientifically proven that exercise helps combat the feeling in a normal and healthy way. Avoid letting those emotions build up inside you. You don’t need to subscribe to any fitness subscription services, you can find a ton of really fun workout videos on YouTube for free that you can do in the comfort of your home. 

compassion fatigue

8. Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is key for dealing with compassion fatigue. Unfortunately, depending on your job, you might not be able to set boundaries with everyone. For example, if a patient is telling you a story about an uncomfortable trauma you’ve experienced, as their therapist, you can’t set the boundary to tell them to stop telling you this story. 

However, if you’re in a professional setting, you can ask your boss for help with managing your boundaries for when you’re feeling caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue. 

If a friend is constantly telling you the same negative story repeatedly, you can set boundaries by telling them which topics are off limits when the two of you are together. You could also spend less time with certain people, if they’re proving to drain your compassion quickly. It’s always hard being around negative people. So, take some time to draw borders around yourself. 

9. Manage your thoughts

When dealing with compassion fatigue, it’s important to control your emotions. You can only do this by managing your thoughts. Your thoughts can easily go off on tangents , if you let them wander long enough. Guided meditation can help you watch your thoughts float in and out of your mind, so you can realize their nature. 

However, once you realize how thoughts work, you need to understand that you are not your thoughts. So, stop wondering, “what is wrong with me?” just because you’re experiencing compassion fatigue. It’s normal to feel this way. Your thoughts are telling you what to feel. However, you need to regain control over them because they’re not real.

You’re going to be okay. As long as you meditate and learn how to manage intrusive thoughts, you’ll be able to combat your compassion fatigue. Try out this meditation for intrusive thoughts below.

10. Rotate care with a professional

It’s not easy to provide care for a loved one, 100% of the time. If possible, consider rotating care with a professional. You can have a nurse or therapist come to your home to chat with your loved one when you find it too difficult to deal with.

If you’re in a hospital setting, you can tell the nurse on staff you’re heading home to shower, eat, and practice self-care. They’ll understand the situation quite well.

If you’re a medical professional who’s caring for a specific patient, you may or may not be able to rotate care with certain patients. For example, a therapist might not be able to give a patient’s files to another therapist’s files unless they’re retiring. However, a nurse at a hospital may be able to rotate taking care of a specific patient who is particularly draining to be around. 

Having someone help you alongside you will not only give you the support you need, but will also have a similar experience of dealing with someone who is suffering, so you may find a good friend who will help you learn how to deal with compassion fatigue and caring for a loved one as they suffer. 

11. Journal your feelings

If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, consider writing about it in your journal. For example, this could play a huge role in your healing and understanding of life. For example, most people experience compassion fatigue when someone they love or care for is suffering immensely.

If someone close to you is severely depressed but you don’t realize that, if they were to die suddenly, you might start to see the patterns in your journal that made it clear how bad their suffering was. That doesn’t mean you blame yourself for not doing enough because of their actions. However, you might realize that experiencing compassion fatigue gets stronger the more severe someone else’s mental state is. You might learn the signs earlier so that next time you’re able to resolve it easier.

journalling your feelings

12. Schedule mental health hours

All people providing care or love to people who are struggling should schedule mental health hours each day. That doesn’t always mean seeing a therapist. However, doing something at least one hour a day that is for your brain.

You might find relaxing activities that silence the thoughts. Maybe reading makes your mind wander, so instead you and your partner play a board game together. Or you watch a hilarious new comedy on a streaming service. You could try meditation, yoga, exercise, or anything that helps you turn off that inner critic and brings you to your inner peace

13. Pamper yourself

Compassion fatigue is hard. So pamper yourself. Not just self-care ideas but anything that makes you feel good. If you’re being drained by someone else, think about what brings you back to a happy state. Do something for yourself that makes you feel beautiful, relaxed, and happy again.

Maybe that’s doing on a date night with your friends. You might head to the salon to get a new manicure for your nails. Cutting your hair seems to be a new you sort of change people make. Anything that helps you feel refreshed and rejuvenated is a great choice at helping you deal with compassion fatigue. It’s all about remembering who you are: a great, kind, and loving person who deserves to have great, kind, and loving things come back to them. 

Conclusion

Compassion fatigue can be a huge drain on us emotionally. However, it’s important to remember that all it means is that we have a huge heart. We love people so much that it can be hard for us when we don’t receive that love back. It’s hard for people who are struggling and in pain to show us love. However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be capable of giving it back to you or someone else one day. One day, they’ll remember how kind and compassionate you were in their time of need and will be grateful for your love and kindness. Let the story unfold. 

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