Compassion fatigue vs burnout is a common question that anyone can have. Burnout is a relatively new term, whereas compassion fatigue is a more accepted term. In this article, we will do an outline of the two terms and get to the bottom of what they mean and how to avoid them.
Compassion fatigue vs burnout: What is the difference?
What is compassion fatigue?
A state of emotional or spiritual exhaustion is associated with caring for others who are suffering in various ways, including via in-person contact, phone calls, and social media. The experience is often accompanied by a sense of growing detachment from the people being cared for, as well as a desire to avoid contact with them.
Compassion fatigue has been associated with vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue syndrome, secondary traumatic stress disorder, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress.
The early signs that a person is experiencing a loss of compassion fatigue, or the condition itself, may include a sense of hopelessness or lack of motivation, feeling emotionally numb or detached from others, feeling irritable or angry with others, and/or becoming disconnected from one’s own values.
Gradually taking on responsibility for other people’s hardships can lead to the desire to make the problems one encounters in life go away. This combination of increasing isolation and feeling that life holds no meaning can then lead to deep depression.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional or spiritual exhaustion caused by experiencing the burdens of daily life, including those from caring for others.
The early signs that a person is experiencing burnout may include a sense of hopelessness or lack of motivation, feeling emotionally numb or detached from others, avoiding responsibility and work avoiding tasks that require one to take action, and/or an inability to properly manage stress.
Burnout is a sense of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization that results from prolonged exposure to workplace stressors. The term burnout refers to occupational exhaustion and refers to the emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment experienced by the worker.
What are the differences between the two?
Compassion fatigue is the more established term, it has now been studied for over two decades. Burnout is relatively new and has only now been studied in depth.
Compassion fatigue is still being studied today, so there are still some gaps in knowledge about what causes it.
With burnout, on the other hand, there are already many studies done on it that show that people can experience this at work. Burnout is a distinct syndrome from compassion fatigue, but they have a similar emotional and psychological impact.
The biggest difference between the two is that burnout is work-related. In other words, burnout can happen to anyone who works or has worked in a particular field for an extended period of time. For example, someone who works in the emergency room of a hospital may have experienced some levels of burnout, whereas people who visit the emergency room or who visit patients in hospital rooms may experience compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is also work-related, but it is an emotional side effect of working with people who are suffering, or caring for someone who is suffering, that often occurs on the personal side. This does not mean that the cause is always on the job front. It may be caused by something else entirely, but crucially it does happen to people on the job.
Burnout on the other hand can happen even if no one has ever suffered emotionally or psychologically due to their work. The only difference is that the cause of burnout is more likely to be a job related one.
The most common areas where you can experience these mental health issues
1. Work place
It is common for people to experience burnout at work. Many people also experience compassion fatigue while working in a job. Although compassion fatigue can happen in any environment where people experience stress, burnout only happens in the workplace. Studies show that the most common professions that experience burnout are doctors, nurses, teachers, and social workers.
School workers experience compassion fatigue more often than people who work in other occupations. College students are also more likely to suffer from burnout than high schoolers. College students may also experience compassion fatigue if they are constantly dealing with deadlines and stress on papers.
Compassion fatigue is common at colleges, since college students may constantly be on their toes preparing for exams or preparing themselves to deal with stressful professors. Students may also feel compassion fatigue in the classroom when they see their professor teaching and dealing with students at the same time. They may then feel that their professor has no sympathy for them and that they are not supported in school.
3. Raising children
A common cause of burnout is parenting. When parents become over-stretched, they may end up neglecting their children and family duties. This can lead to severe consequences for the family, including depression and other mental disorders.
This may include lack of sleep, long working hours during the week, or constant stress between work and home life that seems to get in the way of caring for their families.
Burnout is also common for parents who are trying to take care of their families. This may be caused by spending too much time at work or not getting enough sleep to take care of their families.
Compassion fatigue can happen when people experience relationships heavily in their lives. If they constantly experience feelings of stress and sadness, they may feel that they are unable to build strong relationships with their loved ones or other people in society. If this continues for a long period of time, the person may feel that there is no point in forming relationships with other people in society, so they may isolate themselves from everyone else.
Burnout also happens in relationships where one person feels the level of responsibility is too high for them to handle. They may feel stressed, unable to cope with the amount of work that is required for whatever relationship they are in. This may lead to them isolating themselves from the relationships they are in.
How to deal with compassion fatigue or burnout
Seeking out solutions for compassion fatigue and burnout can be difficult. However, there are many things that people can do to try and deal with the mental health issues caused by stress at work or home. Some may feel that they need to leave their job, while others may find other ways to deal with their issues that do not involve leaving the place where they work.
1. Take a break from whatever is causing these mental health issues
People may feel that they need to leave the job or take a break from their work to put an end to these issues. However, sometimes there are other ways that people can deal with them. They need to find other ways of coping with the issues caused by their work, such as:
- Finding ways of coping at work such as getting professional help or reducing workloads.
- Talking to others about how they experience stress and burnout and accepting help from others who have experienced similar issues.
2. Speak to a professional
Many people feel that they need to speak to a counsellor or psychologist about these issues. This can help them deal with the emotional and psychological impacts of the stress that they experience on their mental health. A counsellor can also help them find solutions to deal with their issues more effectively.
Research on burnout suggests that job resources (e.g., career opportunities, career mastery, supportive supervisor) may buffer employees from experiencing burnout; whereas job demands (e.g. demanding jobs) may exacerbate the experience of burnout.
Compassion fatigue is referred to as a form of emotional exhaustion, which describes exhaustion that is triggered by one’s work. It is not to be confused with compassion fatigue or burnout, which are associated with emotional exhaustion that is experienced outside of work, but rather “emotional stressors” during the day at work.
3. Talk to a friend about how you are feeling
Talking to your close friends and family about how you are feeling may help you deal with the stress that has occurred in your life. Family members and close friends can provide you with the necessary support to get through these stressful times.
Like other forms of burnout, compassion fatigue can be caused by too much stress or a lack of resources to cope with the stress. When people are suffering from burnout or compassion fatigue, they may feel hopeless or helpless.
Compassion fatigue is a type of emotional exhaustion that happens when a person experiences too much stress in their day-to-day life. Compassion fatigue can be caused by both excessive and routine stress at work or in the home, often due to a feeling of being unable to help others who are suffering from mental illnesses.
The power of practising prevention
Being aware of early signs and just generally practising good habits to prevent burnout can lead to less stress and burnout later on.
1) Take care of yourself: It’s important for volunteer leaders to take care of their physical, emotional and mental health. Be a good role model for others. Take time out to exercise and eat well, so you feel happy and healthy
2) Keep a record of your day: Regularly note down what makes you smile or laugh or how you felt during the day.
3) Let go of your ego: Let go of any expectations you might have of yourself and others. It’s more about the journey and the experience than the final result or outcome.
4) Develop your emotional intelligence: Practise mindfulness by accepting what you feel, however insignificant it might seem to others, and really “feel” what is happening in your body. Be aware of what triggers your emotions and how they make you feel physical (e.g., get a headache when stressed).
5) Get enough sleep: There are various ways to help you fall asleep, e.g., through mindfulness or meditation, adequate nutrition, exercise and the use of herbal teas before bedtime.
6) Talk it out: Talk to someone about your feelings. It might not be easy to talk about your feelings with someone you know well. It can be easier to talk about what’s difficult with a professional outside the situation.