Compassion fatigue, also referred to as empathy overload, is deep physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion experienced by those helping people in distress. Workers can negatively adapt to their exhaustion by becoming less empathetic and more withdrawn in their day-to-day.

Anyone helping others can be affected by compassion fatigue. It can impact one’s relationships with colleagues, cause anxiety or depression, lead to indifference toward the suffering of others and job dissatisfaction. Often, care workers can experience high levels of burnout which may lead to compassion fatigue. Learning to recognize and manage symptoms can be an important variable to increase the overall health and wellness for healthcare workers as well as allowing them to provide support to their clients.

Compassion fatigue can differ from person to person but some of the following symptoms may be present:

  • Cognitive: Apathy, difficulty concentrating, perfectionism, obsession, rigid thinking, preoccupation with trauma, intrusive thoughts, and hypervigilance.
  • Emotional: Persistent feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, numbness, helplessness, blaming, diminished sense of personal accomplishment, exhaustion, high self-expectations, hopelessness, inability to maintain balance of empathy and objectivity, less ability to feel joy, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
  • Behavioral: Becoming withdrawn, having difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, hypervigilance, abusing drugs/alcohol, chronic lateness or absenteeism, frequent job changes, and rejecting physical and emotional closeness.
  • Physical: Increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, muscle and joint pain, an impaired immune system, increased severity of medical concerns, frequent headaches, exhaustion, gastrointestinal complaints, hypertension, and loss of productivity.

Compassion fatigue is a set of symptoms, not a disease. Identifying those symptoms and providing resources to employees experience these symptoms will benefit your employees’ mental health long term.

Does your staffing organization have any programs in place to support employee mental health? A good place to start is open communication channels and regular check ins. Talking can normalize and help navigate mental health in the workplace. To learn more about how you can combat compassion fatigue within your organization, contact a Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA) advisor today.

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