Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress, is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. Teachers who frequently navigate emotionally challenging situations involving their students are particularly susceptible to experiencing this phenomenon. Although the effects of compassion fatigue can be detrimental to educators’ personal and professional lives, there are strategies to overcome it. Let’s explore a few together!
Understanding Compassion Fatigue
- Compassion fatigue occurs when individuals, like teachers, are exposed to repeated or chronic traumatic material. It’s explicitly related to relationships where someone takes on a helper role in supporting a sufferer.
- Although often thought of as being different from, and untied to, burnout and regular stress, compassion fatigue can often manifest as a result of these things.
- Among other things, compassion fatigue may manifest as increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, intrusive thoughts about student traumas, or feelings of hopelessness.
Learn More: Choosing Therapy
The Impact of Compassion Fatigue on Teachers
- Compassion fatigue can impact teachers on multiple levels- spanning from personal impact right through to professional borders.
- If left unaddressed, it can cause anxiety, depression, or intrusive thoughts.
- In a professional capacity, it may lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and even the loss of one’s job. Additionally, teachers experiencing compassion fatigue may find it more challenging to connect with their students and colleagues alike.
- Research suggests that the emotional toll of this vicarious trauma has increased over recent years- contributing to burnout and affecting teacher retention rates.
Learn More: Ed Week
Identification and Self-assessment
- Recognizing compassion fatigue is the first step taken toward addressing it. Beyond what was mentioned above, signs of compassion fatigue may also include; chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, feelings of inequity, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment.
- Regular self-assessment and monitoring of emotional well-being are advised for teachers to easily spot signs of the above before they run rampant.
Learn More: Mental Health Center
Strategies to Overcome Compassion Fatigue
- Preventing compassion fatigue involves practicing self-care, setting professional boundaries, and taking time to relax and recharge. In other words, maintaining a work-life balance and engaging in hobbies and activities outside of teaching is crucial.
- Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have also proven to be effective.
Learn More: Studies Weekly
The Role of the School Community
- The school community can play a supportive role by fostering an environment that prioritizes well-being and provides stress management resources.
- Providing training on compassion fatigue, granting time for self-care, and promoting a supportive and understanding environment are all beneficial.
Learn More: Department of Education
Seeking Professional Help
- Teachers dealing with compassion fatigue should consider seeking help from a mental health professional when self-care practices aren’t enough. This might include consulting with psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed therapists who specialize in trauma or stress. Hotlines and counseling services in your area are also valuable resources to seek out and have on hand.
Learn More: Jabu Mind
As discussed above, compassion fatigue can be detrimental to teachers’ personal and professional lives. Addressing the situation is crucial for the well-being and efficacy of teachers. By acknowledging and addressing it, teachers can better serve their students and themselves. If you’ve experienced any of the above, remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness!
Learn More: Learning.com
If you’d like to learn more about how to pinpoint compassion fatigue, help yourself, or help others who may be experiencing it, check out the informative compilation of resources below.
- Figley, C.R. (1995). Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. Brunner/Mazel.
- Joinson, C. (1992). “Coping with Compassion Fatigue.” Nursing, 22(4), 116-121.
- Stamm, B.H. (2010). The Concise ProQOL Manual. Pocatello, ID: ProQOL.org.
- Mathieu, F. (2012). The Compassion Fatigue Workbook: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Traumatization. Routledge.
- Ray, S.L., Wong, C., White, D., & Heaslip, K. (2013). “Compassion Satisfaction, Compassion Fatigue, Work Life Conditions, and Burnout Among Frontline Mental Health Care Professionals.” Traumatology, 19(4), 255-267.
- National Center for School Mental Health. (2021). Resources on Compassion Fatigue for Educators. [Website]