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  • Writer's pictureJustin Tilghman, Ph.D.

From Caregiving to Care for Self: Understanding Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Burnout and compassion fatigue are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct concepts that can have a significant impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged periods of stress, while compassion fatigue is a form of burnout specifically related to the work of helping professionals.



Compassion fatigue is often experienced by people who work in caregiving professions, such as nurses, social workers, therapists, and first responders. These individuals are often exposed to high levels of stress and trauma on a daily basis, which can lead to feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a decreased ability to empathize with others.


Here are some ways in which burnout and compassion fatigue are similar and different:


Similarities:

  1. Both can be caused by prolonged periods of stress and emotional exhaustion.

  2. Both can have negative effects on your mental health, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and a decreased ability to cope with stress.

  3. Both can lead to physical symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.

  4. Both can have a negative impact on your work and personal life, including decreased productivity and strained relationships.

Differences:

  1. Burnout can affect anyone who experiences prolonged periods of stress, while compassion fatigue is specific to people who work in caregiving professions.

  2. Burnout is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, while compassion fatigue is characterized by a decreased ability to feel empathy and compassion for others.

  3. Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors, including work-related stress and personal factors, while compassion fatigue is primarily caused by exposure to traumatic events and high levels of stress in the workplace.

  4. Burnout can be prevented and managed through self-care practices and seeking support, while compassion fatigue often requires specialized training and support for helping professionals.

If you are experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue, it is important to take steps to protect your mental health and wellbeing.


Here are some self-care practices that can help:

  1. Prioritize self-care: Make time for activities that bring you joy and help you relax, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.

  2. Seek support: Don't be afraid to seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional if you are struggling with burnout or compassion fatigue.

  3. Set boundaries: It is important to set boundaries at work and in your personal life to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. This may include setting limits on your work hours or saying no to activities that may cause additional stress.

  4. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing, can help you manage stress and improve your emotional wellbeing.

Burnout and compassion fatigue are two related but distinct concepts that can have a significant impact on your mental health and wellbeing. If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout or compassion fatigue, it is important to take steps to protect your mental health and seek support if needed. With the right support and self-care practices, you can prevent burnout and compassion fatigue and enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life.


As a life coach, I specialize in helping people set healthy boundaries that can alleviate or avoid burnout altogether. If you're experiencing burnout or feel like things are just getting a bit too overwhelming. Let's talk!




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Justin is a Board Certified Advanced Life Coach with the Board of Christian Life Coaching, a division of the International Board of Christian Care and the American Association of Christian Counselors. He has demonstrated knowledge and application of biblical integration in coaching, the ICCA and ICF Core Competencies, the Code of Ethics, and the ICF definition of coaching.

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Justin is a Board Certified Master Mental Health Coach with the Board of Mental Health Coaching, a division of the International Board of Christian Care and the American Association of Christian Counselors. He has demonstrated knowledge and application of biblical integration in providing ethical and competent mental health coaching.

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