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Compassion Fatigue

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Compassion fatigue is a combination of burnout and secondary traumatic stress.” Burnout includes feelings of exhaustion, and negative or cynical attitudes toward work. Secondary traumatic stress can be the result of an individuals’ deep empathy toward ill or dying patients. Although more commonly known in the human medical field, animal professionals, including wildlife rehabilitators, are also at high risk of compassion fatigue. Most wildlife rehabilitation centers have to operate with limited resources while handling overwhelming amounts of patients. Therefore, workers often can wear out and face huge stress. Warning signs/symptoms of compassion fatigue:

  • Physical (headaches, digestive problems)

  • Emotional (mood swings, anger, anxiety)

  • Behavioral (excessive use of alcohol and drugs)

  • Spiritual (questioning the meaning of life)

Compassion fatigue itself is a natural psychological response and can occur with anyone. Here are some of the examples of how to cope.

  • Focus on the four core components of resilience: adequate sleep, good nutrition, regular physical activity and active relaxation (i.e. yoga or meditation).

  • Reduce workload intensity, repetitiveness and integrate variety into your work, where possible.

  • Seek strategies with your mentor/supervisor to help you cope with the current work situation.

  • Be open to learning new skills to enhance personal and professional wellbeing.

  • Keep your work and private life separate.

  • Make friends and/or develop interests outside of your work.

  • Seek professional support like therapy.

It could be difficult to recognize whether you are suffering from compassion fatigue by yourself, let alone by others. Don’t be too hard on yourself and make sure to remember that your well-being is the most important priority in your life. What I personally like to remind myself, when I feel very helpless, is “the starfish story”. If you don’t know the story, you can read it here :) References:

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