A Therapist Gives 2 Tips To Guard Against Compassion Fatigue

Here's how you can help yourself when helping others has drained you out.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | May 3, 2023

People often turn to therapy when they realize that they are not able to extend support to people in need anymore. They are riddled with questions like:

  • "I haven't felt satisfaction or relief in so long. Why does everything annoy me these days?"
  • "I want to be emotionally available and strong but I check out whenever a difficult situation or conversation is about to come up. Am I just lazy?"
  • "I cannot remember the last time I had some guiltless fun with my friends and loved ones. Why does everything I used to enjoy seem like hard work lately?"

These questions are the sound of a person functioning on an empty cup. The mental health world refers to this problem as compassion fatigue. Common in working professionals like therapists, nurses, and veterinarians, compassion fatigue also runs rampant, but is less likely to be diagnosed, in informal caregivers.

A recurring complaint among people with compassion fatigue is that they only get to know about it once they are going through it. If you are currently supporting a loved one through a difficult time or are in a profession that involves continuous and sensitive caregiving, pay close attention to the following two tips:

#1. Give your feelings a name

While compassion fatigue may seem like an inevitability of life, there are many things one can do to prevent it. The primary one being learning about it and checking for signs regularly. This is especially important for anyone whose profession demands an extraordinary amount of emotional resilience.

A glaring sign that one might be moving towards a state of compassion fatigue is a steady decline in what is known as compassion satisfaction. According to one article, compassion fatigue causes "the caring, feeling, and acts of compassion (to) decline," replacing it with "an outwardly impassive detachedness."

This can lead to social isolation, a lack of self-care, as well as a plethora of negative emotions such as self-contempt, anger, annoyance, and embitterment.

It is necessary to keep examining yourself for these signs so that you can report them when things get out of hand. If one does not know about the signs or the concept of compassion fatigue altogether, it might lead to bigger mental health issues. Always remember, when a problem has a label and a definition, it can seem more manageable and therefore curbs feelings of panic and overwhelm.

#2. Ask for help

The people who give help are almost always the shiest to ask for it. Fortunately, when it comes to compassion fatigue, there are a number of interventions that have proven to be extremely effective. While small lifestyle changes like meditation, a balanced diet, and a regular exercise regime are great for prevention, external help might be necessary when one's compassion tank is running alarmingly low.

An article published in the Journal of Health Service Psychology suggests two highly effective treatment modalities for compassion fatigue:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Being exposed to chronic suffering can affect your thought patterns too. Learning to recognize your current lapses in self-care and boundary setting through CBT can be incredibly helpful for someone with compassion fatigue.
  2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This therapy technique can be a great tool to build resilience. Once a person has identified their problem areas, they can follow it up with ACT to build advanced self-care and problem solving skills.


The trite wisdom of putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to help the person next to you holds true in the case of prolonged caregiving and compassion fatigue. One cannot serve another on an empty cup.