Combating Compassion Fatigue


Exhausted decision maker teacher cover image

Have you heard of the term compassion fatigue? Did you know that it can set in over a period of years or as little as 6 weeks? (Elliot, Elliot, and Spears, 2018).  If you are a teacher, parent or caregiver, you might be experiencing compassion fatigue right now and not even be aware.  

“Compassion fatigue is a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with the trauma-related work we do where others are in significant emotional pain or physical distress.  It’s known as the high cost of caring.” (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2020, p. 20).

In The Distance Learning Playbook, authors, Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie offer the following list as signs of compassion fatigue:

  • Isolation
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Sadness, apathy
  • Impulse to rescue anyone in need
  • Persistent physical ailments
  • Substance abuse
  • Hypervigilance or hyperarousal
  • Recurring nightmares or flashbacks
  • Excessive complaints about colleagues, management or those being helped

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress, can lead to chronic exhaustion, a sense of hopelessness, anxiety, and guilt, so it is imperative that we care for ourselves during these stressful and trying times.  In the article,  Preventing Compassion Fatigue: Caring for Yourself authors, Erdman, Colker, and Winter suggest teachers attend to their physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual needs in order to best care for and teach their students.  

Yoga pose

Ideas include practicing self-care strategies and mindfulness, creating routines for exercise, healthy eating, reframing negative thoughts and creating a self-care action plan.  All together, these practices will combat the compassion fatigue or secondary trauma that teachers may be experiencing. Accountability is important in education, let’s hold ourselves and our peers accountable for self care as well!

Please feel free to contact Michelle Haberman (mhaberman@centralriversaea.org) or Jessie Blohm (jblohm@centralriversaea.org) for more information.

Elliot, K. W., Elliott, J. K., & Spears, S. G. (2018). Teaching on empty. Principal, 98(2), 28-29.

Erdman, S., Colker, S. J., & Winter, E. C. (2020). Preventing compassion fatigue: Caring for yourself. Young Children, 75(3). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/jul2020/preventing-compassion-fatigue

Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2020). The distance learning playbook: Teaching for engagement & impact in any setting. Corwin.