When the Wheel of Compassion Runs Dry – Compassion Fatigue

When the Wheel of Compassion Runs Dry – Compassion Fatigue

You’ve been caring for this loved one for years

It just seemed like the natural thing to do

You’ve recently felt more exhausted

You don’t sleep properly

You feel like your life revolves around taking care of that one person

You don’t have time to do the things you enjoy

Lately, people around you have noticed you being more irritable

You’ve got those crazy headaches continually

You don’t eat properly

You’re tired all of the time

At work or at home, it seems like things are upside down

You can’t stop thinking about work at home

And you can’t stop thinking about home at work

Life doesn’t make sense anymore…


Welcome to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue among nurses is a real issue. Due to prolonged exposure to difficult situations, some nurses loose their empathy, or their ability to nurture and care for patients. However, it’s a very hard concept to screen. It’s a very insidious process. Some nurses may have been bitter since day 1, but most of them have not. Ever heard a nurse say: it’s funny, but I wasn’t like that when I started. That same nurse will probably walk away and carry on with her activities. It’s almost like it has become a norm, that some nurses are mean and other aren’t, when in fact, being a nurse should imply being empathetic.

Yet, we’ve all known one nurse on our floor who’s just plain bitter…and wondered why is she even a nurse! But has she always been this way? Is she just so fatigued that she’s almost immune to other people’ pain? We should all screen our selves, and examine our interactions with patients and family members to see if we’re not this close to become compassion fatigued.

But not only nurses are at risk of suffering from compassion fatigue. With the aging population, more and more people become natural caregivers for their loved ones. Some may also be caring for a child in difficulty. It’s not easy having to juggle with a parent who’s developed dementia and young kids at home, all at the same time. Yet so many people are doing it in this very moment. As a result, anybody can develop compassion fatigue.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue happens when your natural resource for caring have been depleted. Figley (2002) describes it as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional pain. You haven’t been able to replenish your physical and mental strength in order to take care of other people. Compassion fatigue is an abstract concept, but can impact your physical health in real tangible ways. You have the sensation of feeling numb when it comes to the pain that surrounds you, whether at work or at home. This has repercussions on your way to work, interact with others, eat, sleep etc.

What can I do to prevent compassion fatigue?

-Make it a point to have a life outside of work and your household duties. Practice an activity you like at least once a week: let it be painting, swimming, taking salsa classes, going to the gym.tired burnout compassion fatigue caregiver nurse

Keep healthy habits: eating well, exercising well, sleeping well and that, as much as possible. You have to try to balance your neurotransmitters as much as possible, to prevent compassion fatigue and other mental illnesses such as depression.

-Meditate, and find relaxing hobbies that are cost-effective and enjoyable, like this one (coloring)

Use your resources. If you’re like me, you like to do everything by yourself. But nursing has taught me that sometimes, I have to delegate. Of course, the results may not be the same as if I did it myself, but if I don’t want to drown under the pile of tasks, I have to reach for the helping hand. If you’re a nurse or CNA or RNA, learn to delegate to your other coworkers (nurses, RNAs, PABs). If you’re a natural caregiver, evaluate your options: can another family member come and take care of dad once a week? Can I enroll my mom who’s got Alzheimer’s in a day center where she gets to interact with other people of her age, and do some activities while I get a little bit of “ME” time? It’s not always that easy, I admit, but you may have to try different solutions to find something that’ll really help in the end. The key is to simply try.

Talk! Find that person at work or outside of work. I’ve got good friends at work, but only one whom I know I can talk to if there was a buggy situation. She’s got more experience than I do, but we’ve got so many things in common. We know exactly how the other one must have felt in a particular situation, so just venting about stuff help us reach a decent level of sanity! Find your person at work, or in life in general. Someone you trust, that has enough wisdom to enlighten you when you need a different point-of-view. Someone who’ll listen to you and perhaps help you find solutions.


I think I have compassion fatigue, what should I do?

Consult your family doctor or a mental health specialist. Your family doctor may give you a few weeks off work, to get things back in balance. The mental health specialist can help you find coping strategies and may guide you towards resources to help you caring for both your loved one and yourself.

Take it slow: just like any other sickness, you will have to slow your life down to take care of yourself. That may mean finding new arrangements to take care of someone. As aforementioned, your resources will come in very handy.

Don’t seclude yourself: compassion fatigue is a close cousin of burnout and depression. Try not to live it alone. Speak to trustworthy family members or friends. They may be more than just confident, and help you get through it.

Join a community: the internet is a wonderful place to find people who have gone through similar situations. Sometimes, speaking to a close friend or family member isn’t enough, as they won’t relate to our problem. Joining a community with people who can uplift you by giving you hands on advice or just listening can make a big difference is your rehab process.


Remember that the first step is always to acknowledge that there is a problem. the second is to reach out. You’re not alone, and some of us have gone through it and have survived.


Have you ever felt like that? That you were compassion fatigued? What has helped you?

Please share with us

RN Didi







Figley, C.R. (Ed.). (2002) Treating Compassion Fatigue, New York: Brunner/Routledge.

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