Compassion fatigue is a term that was first used to describe what mental health therapists experience when working with traumatized clients, but we now understand that other professions face compassion fatigue too 一 including medical practitioners and educators.
Why is this important?
- Compassion fatigue has led to high employee turnover in other, high stress professions like nursing. Educators fill one of the most important roles in our society, and we can’t afford to lose them to compassion fatigue.
- Compassion fatigue and burnout can lead to more serious mental health issues, including clinical depression and anxiety disorders.
- Workplace stress, including compassion fatigue, can lead to an increased risk for physical illnesses like diabetes type 2 and heart disease.
- Compassion fatigue limits one’s ability to fully support those around them such as students and peers
Tips to beat educator compassion fatigue
- Think about your school culture, and what you can do to improve it. School culture greatly affects how likely teachers are to feel compassion fatigue to begin with. Do educators at your school have the space and time to talk about how they’re feeling? Are they encouraged to take time for self-care? Think about your workplace, what cultural changes need to be made, and what role you can play in advocating for them.
- Find a mentor. If anyone can understand exactly what you’re going through, it’s other teachers. It’s easy to isolate when feeling stressed or burnt out, but try to resist this temptation. A professional mentor can be a supportive person in your life who understands exactly what you’re going through. Your mentor can be someone who you can be honest with about how you feel, and who can teach you that you are not to blame.
- Get mental health support. Don’t be ashamed of seeing a mental health therapist for help in navigating your feelings. A therapist can help validate your experience, problem-solve solutions, and give you a safe place to process your emotions.
- Practice self-care. When you take the time to make sure that your body and mind are healthy, you’re in a better position to be able to weather the emotional storms that you go through with your students. When you’re taken care of, you’re able to be more present for your students and care for them in the ways they might need.
- Use mindfulness or other meditative practices. Mindfulness and other meditative practices can make you more resilient when facing difficult times while bringing sense of meaning and purpose to your life. Practicing mindfulness may help you to be more able to sit with the challenges that you and your students go through and to be present with these difficult experiences.
Levkovich, I. & Shinan-Altman, I. (2021) Managing the emotional aspects of compassion fatigue among teachers in Israel: a qualitative study, Journal of Education for Teaching, DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2021.1929876
Sharp Donahoo, L. M., Siegrist, B., & Garrett-Wright, D. (2018). Addressing Compassion Fatigue and Stress of Special Education Teachers and Professional Staff Using Mindfulness and Prayer. The Journal of School Nursing, 34(6), 442–448. https://doi.org/10.1177/1059840517725789
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (n.d.). Understanding Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved on July 21, 2021 from https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma14-4869.pdf
The Alberta Teachers Association (2020). Compassion Fatigue, Emotional Labour, and Educator Burnout: Research Study. Retrieved on July 21, 2020 from https://www.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/ATA/Publications/Research/COOR-101-30%20Compassion%20Fatigue%20Study.pdf