How to Manage Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

Burnout happens to the best of us, it’s when you feel tired and no longer have the motivation to continue with things you were once so passionate about or enjoyed. A particular form of this is called “Compassion Fatigue.”This specific type of burnout can occur when you have expressed extreme amounts of empathy towards others and even taken on another person’s pain, ultimately causing your own trauma response. It is quite a common phenomenon amongst healthcare, social and mental health workers, particularly “Accidental Counsellors” however it can impact almost anyone who exerts this amount of care towards others. 


The first step in preventing Compassion Fatigue is knowing the symptoms, these can include:

  • Sleeping trouble or insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained physical issues
  • Inability to be decisive 
  • Feeling isolated and hopeless
  • Dreading going to work 

Once you are aware of these symptoms, have identified this problem and recognised that it is not a weakness you can work towards a resolution. 


Go back to basics 

When we feel overwhelmed or fatigued we often forget about the essential things that fuel us such as diet, exercise and sleep schedule. Some tips to help you remember these key aspects of living are:

  • Carry a water bottle around with you 
  • Eating balanced meals
  • Keeping meals and snacks at consistent times
  • Spend at least half and hour outside in the sun – preferably doing exercise or some form of movement


Watch for destruction

When we feel emotionally and even physically exhausted we can look to shortcuts or give into impulses as a quick fix to our problem such as retail therapy or binge eating. This is because they make us feel good in the moment, however they aren’t sustainable and are not good long term solutions. Instead of judging yourself on the impulses understand that they are temporary fixes and look for ways to convert them into manageable solutions. A phrase you could say to yourself to assist with this is “This is not the coping method that will really help me.”


Learn to love yourself

By exerting so much compassion, empathy and love towards others you may find you lack in giving these to yourself which is key for feelings of fulfillment and happiness. Try mindfulness or meditation to help yourself be more in touch with what your mind and body is telling you, this way you will know how to be more self compassionate, ultimately easing your fatigue. Some phrases to say are:

  • It’s okay to feel like this.
  • I’ve been carrying a lot, so it’s natural to feel heavy.
  • I’ve been so strong, and I need some relief.


Radical Acceptance

As an “Accidental Counsellor” or just a person who expresses a lot of compassion, you may find yourself living with the ideology that you must help others, you are the best person to look after a particular individual or that you can save a person if you try really hard. Whilst these are great it can be self damaging because you can find yourself attempting to control the uncontrollables. Practicing radical acceptance means to accept what is in and out of your control and to focus on what is rather than what isn’t. By lessening your self obligations you can ease your compassion fatigue. 



By creating separation between work, play and relaxation you can redirect your compassion fatigue to balanced living. This means to separate the things that cause this fatigue from the things that don’t. For example if your job is the cause, when you walk into your house you leave your clients, patients and/or coworkers at work. Change out of your clothes or uniform and take up a non-work related activity. If you work from home this can look like having separate spaces for work and relaxation. Some other things to consider are:

  • Maintaining a social life with people other than your coworkers.
  • Consistently doing hobbies and activities that have nothing to do with work.


Finding support networks

Finding an appropriate support network, whether that is a certain group delegated by work, a psychologist or mental health expert or even a trusted friend or family member, is key to maintaining your mental health. Having a safe space to vent allows you to express your emotions in a healthy way without judgment or giving into impulses. Another strategy is to join a mindfulness class or art therapy group. Everyone deserves an empathetic ear just like you have been providing to others.


Learning how to manage compassion fatigue and burnout is critical for Accidental Counsellors. You’re an “Accidental Counsellor” when you find yourself responding often to emotional distress in your work or personal life without formal counselling training!


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