Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma, is a condition characterized by physical, emotional, and psychological exhaustion that can result from consistently caring for and helping others.

This term is often used in the context of healthcare professionals, social workers, first responders, and others who work in helping professions. Still, it can affect anyone who regularly supports or cares for individuals dealing with trauma or adversity.

Signs you may be experiencing compassion fatigue include:

Emotional Exhaustion

Those experiencing compassion fatigue often feel emotionally drained and overwhelmed. They may find it challenging to connect with their own emotions and may become numb to the suffering of others.


Reduced Empathy

Over time, individuals with compassion fatigue may struggle to empathize with those they are helping because they have been exposed to so much suffering.


Increased Irritability

People experiencing compassion fatigue may become more irritable, anxious, or even angry. Their patience may wear thin.


Physical Symptoms

Compassion fatigue can manifest as physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems, or sleep disturbances.



Individuals may begin to emotionally detach from their work or their clients/patients, which can affect the quality of care they provide.


Decreased Satisfaction

A sense of dissatisfaction with one’s work and feelings of hopelessness can develop.


Compassion fatigue should not be confused with burnout, although some overlap exists. Burnout is a more general condition resulting from chronic workplace stress and exhaustion, while compassion fatigue relates explicitly to the emotional toll of caring for others in distress.

Preventing and managing compassion fatigue often involves:

  • Self-care strategies.
  • Setting boundaries.
  • Seeking support from peers and supervisors.
  • Regularly monitoring one’s own emotional and physical well-being.

Individuals in caregiving professions need to be aware of the signs and take steps to address compassion fatigue to maintain their own mental and emotional health and continue providing effective care to those in need.


Disclaimer: All blog posts are intended for educational purposes and cannot replace direct consultation with a professional provider. Please feel free to check our provider page for more information on our team of talented clinicians who can help you identify and challenge your negative thought patterns.