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What is compassion fatigue?

According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS) Compassion Fatigue is also called “vicarious traumatization” or secondary traumatization (Figley, 1995). The emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn-out, but can co-exist. Compassion Fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a “cumulative” level of trauma.


What are the symptoms of compassion fatigue?

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

Feelings of apathy and isolation are at the top of the list of symptoms of compassion fatigue. But they are far from the only ones. This insidious disorder can cause problems both psychological and physical. Common symptoms of compassion fatigue can include:

  • Bottled-up emotions
  • Sadness and apathy
  • Inability to get pleasure from activities that previously were enjoyable
  • Isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling mentally and physically tired
  • Chronic physical ailments
  • Voicing excessive complaints about your job, your manager(s) and/or co-workers
  • Lack of self-care, including poor hygiene and a drop-off in your appearance
  • Recurring nightmares or flashbacks
  • Substance abuse or other compulsive behaviors such as over-eating or gambling


ABC’s of Prevention


Think of events or situation that causes one to experience an unusually strong reaction and often overpowers one’s usual coping mechanisms.
Are you aware of any of these issues or contributing factors in your workday? If so, you could be at risk of compassion fatigue.

  • Ability to function is interfered with or altered.
  • Situation or incident does not seem “typical or ordinary”, it feels traumatic.
  • “Compassion stress” impinges upon or breaks through normal boundaries
  • Regularly waking up tired in the morning and struggling to get to work?
  • Feeling as if you are working harder but accomplishing less?
  • Becoming frustrated/irritated easily?
  • Losing compassion for some people while becoming over involved in others?
  • Routinely feeling bored or disgusted?
  • Experiencing illness, aches and pains?



Keep Balance in Your Life
  • Practice excellent self-care
  • Nurture yourself by putting activities in your schedule that are sources of pleasure, joy and diversion
  • Allow yourself to take mini-escapes- these relieve the intensity of your work
  • Transform the negative impact of your work (find meaning, challenge negativity, find gratitude)
  • Get medical treatment if needed to relieve symptoms that interfere with daily functioning- don’t use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate
  • Get professional help when needed to get back on track- we all need coaches and consultants at times
Balancing Exercise
  • List one mini-escape or diversion that worked well to restore and renew you
  • List one thing that brings you joy
  • Name 3 things you feel grateful for today
  • Think of something that has brought you a sense of joy (Make your top ten list)
  • Who do you love that you can reach out to today? (Call them!)
  • What made you laugh today? (Share it!)
Find Your Passion
  • We all have hidden sources of energy and healing power.
  • When you identify the things that fuel you, the things that you have true passion for, your fatigue will disappear.
  • Balancing your life involves putting the things that we value and have passion for in our schedule.
Balance For Your Soul
  • Have quiet alone time in a calm, beautiful place- a safe retreat where you feel renewed
  • Have an awareness of what restores and replenishes you.
  • Find ways to acknowledge loss and grief
  • Stay clear with commitment to career goals or your personal mission
  • Know how to focus on what you can control
  • Look at situations as entertaining challenges and opportunities, not problems or stresses


  • Talk out your stress- process your thoughts and reactions with someone else (coworker, therapist, clergy, friend, family, supervisor)
  • Build a positive support system that supports you, not fuels your stress
  • Pets accept whatever affection you are able to give them without asking for more—Pets are basically invulnerable to “provider burnout”–Blood pressure and heart rate decrease when interacting with animals


For more information contact:
Magda Alliancin, EdD
EAP Coordinator
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Information presented adapted for use from the AVMA website and can be found here.


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