People typically become teachers because they love children and have a passion for educating and helping others. The problem is sometimes teachers find themselves helping too much, often to the detriment of their own health. Because empathy is a core competency in teachers, this often results in leading many a teacher down the road to “compassion fatigue.” Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a moment to learn about compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue has been referred to as the “cost of caring.” Initially coined in regard to the nursing profession, the term easily applies to teachers, as well. Those in helping professions, where they are in direct contact with those struggling or suffering, can display signs and symptoms of burnout directly linked to the caregiving required by their jobs.
With the rising mental health needs of students, teachers are faced with an even greater need to protect themselves from compassion fatigue. The cost of caring is exhausting. Consistent with any type of exhaustion or fatigue, compassion fatigue will reduce one’s ability or desire to help others.
A Gallup poll found that 44% of K-12 employees, and 52% of teachers, “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work – the highest rate of burnout of any industry in the U.S.
Compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout, which is a cumulative sense of fatigue or dissatisfaction.
“While burnout is one part of this form of fatigue, the term compassion fatigue encompasses a more specific experience, which may be brought about by a stressful workplace or environment, lack of resources, or excessive hours.”
In “The Cost of Caring: Compassion Fatigue Is a Special Form of Teacher Burnout,” researcher Xiajun Yu and colleagues report that the findings of their research, “suggest that compassion fatigue among primary and secondary school teachers needs urgent attention. By helping teachers identify compassion fatigue, learn self-care, adjust self-cognition, and clarify the boundaries of their professional competence, teachers’ compassion fatigue can be prevented and alleviated.”
What does this mean for teachers?
Many times, teachers experience psychological and physical symptoms with compassion fatigue. Psychological symptoms include fatigue, depression, not being interested in things once enjoyed, and sometimes persistent thoughts and images related to the problems of others. Along with the psychological symptoms, teachers might also experience physical symptoms such as headache, stomach upset, tight muscles, trouble sleeping, anger and tearfulness. Recognizing stress is sometimes very difficult. Some of us recognize it through physical symptoms and others may recognize it through their emotions. Do you notice any symptoms of compassion fatigue?
Teachers can start mitigating the effects of compassion fatigue with strategies such as mindfulness, boundaries, and self-care. The upcoming summer break gives us an ideal opportunity to assess and re-set our mental health. Learning to recognize compassion fatigue and equipping ourselves with resiliency tactics can put us on the path to better mental health for the next school year!
Here are a few strategies you might consider to help reduce compassion fatigue and improve resiliency:
- Establish heathy boundaries
- Engage in daily self-care
- Allow for adequate sleep
- Engage in positive self-talk
- Take frequent breaks throughout the day
- Invest in a gratitude journal
- Exercise for 30 minutes each day
- Cultivate positive peer supports.
Additionally, we invite you to check out the free course on Self-Compassion at ParentGuidance.org.
Customer Success Manager
Shari Tomlinson is a customer success manager for Learning.com where she works with school districts in Texas to provide ongoing support, equip them with tools necessary to implement our solution with fidelity and deploy team resources as needed. She was previously a fourth grade teacher and district technology trainer.
Michelle Bartsch, M.S.Ed.
Vice President of Education, Cook Center for Human Connection
Michelle Bartsch, M.S.Ed., is the Vice President of Education at Cook Center for Human Connection. The Cook Center for Human Connection brings together the best programs, partnerships, research, policy and events that have demonstrated effectiveness in creating the human connections that are vital for strong mental health