Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien, WA 98166

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Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien, WA 98166


Compassion Fatigue and How to Manage It

By Sophie De Haan, Behavioral Health Systems Navigator

This year has been a particularly challenging time in our world. The more we experience difficult events or circumstances without the ability to remove ourselves from the circumstances or debrief with others, the higher chance we have of developing compassion fatigue and burning out. This is true whether you are experiencing difficulties in your own life or vicariously through others.

The work we do is hard. Taking a break from that work can sometimes feel harder. Learning when to take a break or seek help can lead us to become more resilient.

Compassion Fatigue (CF) refers to the “profound emotional and physical erosion that takes place when we are unable to refuel and regenerate.” Compassion fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional pain (Figley, 1982). The helping field has gradually begun to recognize that workers are profoundly affected by the work they do.

Here are signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue and strategies for managing it: 

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Intrusive imagery 
  • Feeling discouraged about the world 
  • Hopelessness 
  • Exhaustion and irritability 


  • Practice self-care in a realistic way. That could mean watching your favorite show, cranking up your favorite song and dancing around, or eating or drinking your favorite thing. Sometimes it means seeking out therapy. Mostly, it’s just taking some intentional time to do something that makes you feel good. You don’t have to have an entire spa day where no one bothers you. While that may be great, it’s not required and generally unrealistic.  
  • Set emotional boundaries when interacting with others--especially colleagues.
  • Engage in hobbies and relationships outside of work. There’s nothing wrong with having close relationships with people you work with, but it’s important to take a break from work and shop talk.

There are many other strategies you can try. To learn more about managing compassion fatigue and burnout,  attend a webinar on Wednesday, October 21, 4:30-6:00 p.m. Register on Staff Hub and earn clock hours.