How to manage compassion fatigue as a social worker

Social workers provide constant support to help those in vulnerable and often traumatic situations overcome their hardships and achieve a better quality of life. However, the nature of this type of profession puts social workers in the high risk bracket for compassion fatigue. In this blog post, we delve into the symptoms of compassion fatigue and outline how to manage symptoms. 

What is compassionate fatigue? 

Compassionate fatigue is synonymous to second-hand shock, and occurs when an individual takes on the suffering of someone they are looking after that has been subject to an extremely stressful event or is experiencing trauma. It can lead to significant emotional burnout and even depression if neglected.  


Although symptoms vary, here are some to watch out for if you think you could be experiencing compassion fatigue. 

  • Extreme tiredness 
  • Diminished sense of empathy 
  • Feeling overwhelmed – even by small tasks 
  • Withdrawal from day-to-day life and loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Emotional disconnect 
  • Difficulty concentrating at work 
  • Physical pain, e.g. headaches, nausea, dizziness 
  • Trouble sleeping 


How to manage compassion fatigue 

Take a break

Whether you need a cup of tea, a few hours sleep or a week off – your mental health should come first. Besides, a short break to reset is better than reaching complete burnout and resigning! Work will be there to listen and offer support where they can so make sure you’re open about how you’re feeling. 


Practise mindfulness 

 Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce the impact of stress on the body. The aim is to focus your mind on the present and allow yourself to experience each emotion as it arises. Doing this everyday can have a really positive impact on your mental health and help you be more accepting of your emotions. Check out the NHS website for more helpful resources on mindfulness. 


Recognise triggers 

Recognising which emotional or physical cues upset you is the first step to managing compassion fatigue. We recognise that these may not always be avoidable given the circumstances that come with being a social worker, but at least have a coping mechanism in place for days where you know you’ll be encountering a trigger. For example, after I see patient X, I will reward myself with my favourite coffee. 


Identifying symptoms of compassion fatigue early on can help you prevent burnout and lessen its impact on your mental health. 

carlette Isaac

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