7 Ways to Prevent Compassion Fatigue

by Kristie Overstreet Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, LPC, CST

You are a giver, helper, and nurturer by nature. You probably decided to go into the field of behavioral health because you wanted to help others. Now that you have found your career path, it’s essential that you take care of yourself so that you can provide the best care.

Compassion fatigue and burnout is a real thing that many clinicians experience. Your heart is in the right place, and you keep giving. However, if you don’t take time for yourself as an individual and find a work/life balance, you will experience compassion fatigue. You will lose steam, interest, and your natural enthusiasm to help others. Here are 7 ways to prevent compassion fatigue.

1. Read a book or magazine that isn’t related to the helping profession.

It can be easy to spend all of your time during the day learning how to be a better counselor. From books to websites, you realize that everything you are reading is about behavioral health. Be sure to read something different. Whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, comics, or poetry, find reading material that has nothing to do with behavioral health. This prevents compassion fatigue because it allows you to escape, relax, and isn’t work related.

2. Just say no.

You are kind, caring, and have a heart of gold. You want to spend all of your time helping others. You say yes to others that demand your time even after your workday. If you don’t begin to work on your boundaries, you will burn out. It would be easy to take on two extra clients after a full day. The problem is that two then becomes three and you are now in the habit of adding extra work hours each day. Stop worrying what others will think if you say no. You aren’t mean or uncaring. You have to stay healthy if you want to continue to help others. The ability to say no and establish healthy boundaries is a critical factor in preventing compassion fatigue.

3. Schedule time off in advance.

You will always have a to-do list that is never completed. There will still be something you need to do for work at the end of every day. This means that you have to take care of your mental health by scheduling time off. No one will ask you if you want to take a day off, you have to do this yourself. You need to give yourself permission to look at your schedule and plan time out of the office. If it’s one day or multiple days, scheduling it in advance gives you something to look forward to. You don’t need an excuse such as a trip or vacation to escape the office. If you want to help others stay sane, you have to remain sane, and taking time out for self-care is a great way to do this.

4. Find a mentor.

You have supervision hours that are required for licensure. You may not have a choice of a supervisor because you have to get your hours completed. However, you do have a choice when it comes to mentorship. Find someone who you respect, value their feedback, and has time to be a mentor. It may be the person who is your supervisor, or it could be someone in a different career field. You need someone to talk to, discuss ideas with, and get support from. A mentor can help you see things in yourself that you can improve. They can give you feedback that another person can’t. This can help prevent compassion fatigue because they can see it happening before you can.

5. Find a hobby or interest.

You work over 40 hours a week and sometimes even the weekend. It’s easy to come home from work and collapse into the couch until the next day. An easy way to stay balanced is to have a hobby or interest outside of your profession. Whether it’s a book club, scrapbooking, or skydiving, find something to do that you enjoy. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so you have to fill yourself up so you can continue to help others. Work/life balance can be achieved by having a hobby or interest. You owe it to yourself and those you help.

6. Make time for friends, family, and relationships.

Don’t ignore their text or repeated attempts to get you outside of the office. Make the time to see people you enjoy being around. This is your support system and regardless of how busy you are, create time to connect with them. You are very busy, and your schedule is packed, but you can take a moment to call or text them. They care about you and your well-being. To stay balanced and prevent compassion fatigue, spend time with the people you care about.

7. Get outside.

Don’t wait for the walls in your office or hospital to close in on you. Be preventative and get outside for some fresh air. Clinical work, for the most part, requires you to be inside all day. If you work long hours you may even go inside in the morning and not go out again until night. Begin a new routine of going outside once before lunch and sometime mid-afternoon. Just stepping outside or even taking a short walk can improve your mindset immediately. Remember, you owe it to yourself and your clients to stay healthy.

Most clinicians don’t realize that they are feeling burn out or compassion fatigue until it’s too late. You picked this career path because you like to help others. The best help you can give them is to stay healthy so they can receive the best care.