Compassion Fatigue: when caring for others weighs us down


In today’s world, we find ourselves inundated with an overwhelming amount of information, constantly reminding us of the pain and suffering unfolding around us. For those of us in the helping field or caring for others, this constant exposure can lead to compassion fatigue. It's like carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, with little time for respite. 


First, let’s talk about what compassion fatigue is NOT. 

Compassion fatigue is not burnout. Burnout is about being completely depleted. Exhausted people often become apathetic and place blame on those they are caring for. The solution to burnout won’t be a vacation or exercise, but requires a re-assessment of your work, values, and most likely change.

Compassion fatigue is not moral injury. Moral injury occurs when the places that we work have us doing things (or not doing things) that contradict our personal and professional values. For example, it might involve working in settings that prioritize productivity over compassionate care, or for companies that say that they value diversity, inclusion, and belonging but don’t work toward true structural change. No amount of yoga, aromatherapy, or vacation is going to make moral injury go away.

Compassion fatigue is not secondary traumatic stress. Secondary traumatic stress involves experiencing fear or stress because of what we were exposed to at work whether that be situations, events, or others’ traumatic stories.

While some may say compassion fatigue can be made up of all these things combined, I prefer to separate them out so I can easily define what I am experiencing. Compassion fatigue is the fatigue we feel from helping and caring for others. It is something that most people experience and can typically be alleviated through self-care and community care activities.


I may be experiencing compassion fatigue. What can I do about it?

If we know that the constant caring for others is wearing us out, then sometimes what can be helpful is:

  1.  Attuning to your needs and setting boundaries 
    Setting aside time to do things that help us relax, bring us joy, and attune to our needs. I don’t want to define what those things are because they are different for each of us, and they change based on our moods. Sometimes spending time with my friends or helping others is fulfilling and other times I need quiet time to read a book. The point is whether it be self-care or community care, setting boundaries with your time will allow you to replenish. There may be times in which you also want to set boundaries in your relationships, especially if those relationships are unbalanced and you are always giving, listening, and doing. Setting boundaries between your work life and your personal life may also help you with creating space and giving your body and mind time to adjust from the day.
  2. Creating space for your physical and biological needs 
    Sleep, touch, movement, nourishing food, sex, and exercise are all things that may help calm our minds and replenish our body. Whether it's spending time with loved ones, engaging in social activities, or seeking support from a community, interpersonal connections provide a sense of belonging and support during challenging times.
  3. Embracing your spirituality and culture 
    Making time for spiritual practices whether it is meditating, spending time in nature, connecting with ancestors, prayer, or enjoying meaningful interactions with others who share your values can serve as a source of renewal and rejuvenation. Are there cultural practices that you learned growing up that maybe you abandoned or new ones that you would like to learn?
  4. Tending to your own mental and emotional needs 
    Keeping a work journal, specifically if you work in a helping field, can help enhance your self-awareness and coping strategies. Take time to ask yourself: Are my values aligned with those that I work with and with my job? Do I need to develop skills to increase my competence? Is working with a specific personality or trauma triggering me in any way? Am I working in this field because it’s all that I know, because it’s what I am good at, because it’s paying the bills, and to what extent does it fulfill me? What satisfaction do I get from caring for others personally and professionally?

Let’s be about it: What can organizations do to address compassion fatigue?

Addressing compassion fatigue is not solely the responsibility of individuals and the workforce. It's imperative for organizations, especially those in the helping field offering direct community services, to prioritize the well-being of their staff. For example, organizational leaders can ensure that caseloads are balanced and there is an appropriate number of staff to handle the load. If not, then transparency is key; if resources are lacking, clear plans should be devised and communicated openly. Simply offering Employee Assistance Programs isn't enough; true support requires understanding employees' work and provides the necessary resources for effectiveness. Government contracts that prioritize productivity (and quantity) over compassionate, quality care will lead to a worn-out workforce. We need reform in these systems that address client outcomes and quality of care based on the client's report of their experiences.

By acknowledging and addressing compassion fatigue collectively, we can foster healthier, more resilient work environments where both caregivers and those they care for can thrive.



Tara Hodgens is a compassionate and insightful Marriage and Family Therapist at YMCA Youth & Family Services with over 20 years of experience working with diverse populations. She understands that everyone has their own story to tell, and she uses a variety of culturally relevant forms of healing to help her clients find the path to wellness. Tara conducts various staff workshops on mental health and well-being and is passionate about helping people understand the importance of self-care. Tara received her master’s degree in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling, her certificate in Multicultural Counseling & Education, and her bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies, all of which influence her focus on the importance of using culturally relevant forms of healing and feedback informed practice.

About YMCA Mental & Behavioral Health Services

At the Y, we pride ourselves on our holistic approach to mental and behavioral health. With over 50 years of experience, we're deeply committed to addressing the mental health needs of our community, particularly among children and youth. Our approach is rooted in evidence-based practices, ensuring that our interventions are effective and relevant. We understand that mental health is diverse and personal, which is why we offer a wide range of specialized programs and therapeutic supports tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual and family. Our comprehensive services include counseling, parent and caregiver support, workplace wellness initiatives, and programs that promote positive youth development. Through these offerings, we aim to build protective factors, reduce stress, and promote well-being for all. Learn more at


Here are additional articles and resources written by our YMCA mental health team. 

ACTIVITY: Managing Our Emotions

Five Tips: Understanding Your Teen and Improving Your Relationship

Let's Talk about Compassion Fatigue

The Power of Positive Self-Affirmations

Raising Kids and Teens - a Manual-ish!

STRESS and the Therapeutic Value of Our Relationships

Trauma is Not Destiny