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Compassion fatigue and self-care

Self-care plays an important role in managing and preventing compassion fatigue.

Carers provide unpaid care to their family and/or loved ones who require some form of support due to illness, disability, addiction, chronic condition or age.

Caregiving includes providing emotional and social support, as well as physical care including feeding, toileting, showering, dressing, moving and transporting their loved ones.

This is often done on top of their own work, looking after other family members, or managing a household.

Did you know?

There are over 2.65 million carers in Australia
1 in 11 are young carers under the age of 25
Over 400,000 people are primary carers providing care for over 20 hours each week
287,000 people are primary carers providing care for over 40 hours each week
7 out of 10 primary carers are women


While caring can be rewarding, it can also be tiring and stressful. Carers fatigue, or compassion fatigue, is not uncommon.

Compassion fatigue is a heightened level of exhaustion and stress that results in reduced ability to empathise with others and is sometimes referred to as the cost of caring.

Recognising the signs

Feeling irritable, anxious or angry Headaches, weight loss or trouble sleeping
Chronic exhaustion Decreased sympathy or empathy
Reduced sense of fulfilment Difficulty relaxing or ‘switching off’
Increased illnesses Losing interest in things that previously brought you joy and happiness

Preventing or recovering from compassion fatigue

Self-care plays an important role in managing and preventing compassion fatigue.

On planes, the crew advise that if the oxygen mask drops, to put your own mask on first before helping others. The same principal applies in life more generally, but particularly to carers.

You cannot pour from an empty cup, so it’s important to look after yourself so that you can better look after others.

Tips to help you prioritise your own self-care and prevent or recover from compassion fatigue

Have a routine.
Set time for important self-care activities each day including eating healthy meals, getting a good sleep, getting some exercise and time to relax.
Spend time with your loved ones.
Other relationships can be neglected when caring is a priority, but regular social connections are integral to your self-care. Social interactions don’t need to take huge amounts of time out of your day – schedule in a coffee or dinner date, invite some friends over for a movie or call a loved one while you’re making dinner or going on a walk.
Go easy on yourself.
Imagine your loved ones were in your position and give yourself the same kindness that you would show them.
Ask for help.
Reach out to your friends and family for support. They may be able to make some healthy meals for you, give you a break from your caring duties or just be there to provide emotional support.
Take some time for yourself.
Do something that is just for you – read a book, get a massage, take a bath, watch a movie, go for a walk, practice mindfulness. It doesn’t matter what it is, but ensure you set aside time for yourself to relax.
Talk to a professional.
Being a carer can be difficult. If you need support for your own mental health or are struggling with compassion fatigue, speak to a professional about other coping mechanisms that might work for you.


Download tip sheet as a PDF

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