How Mental Health Providers Can Combat Compassion Fatigue

How Mental Health Providers Can Combat Compassion Fatigue

Quick links
Symptoms of compassion fatigue
How telehealth helps mental health providers combat compassion fatigue
Self-care tips for providers facing compassion fatigue
Compassion fatigue during the holidays
Where Iris Telehealth fits in

As a behavioral health provider, you’re on the front lines of America’s mental health crisis. But prioritizing self-care isn’t always easy, and working in mental health care can make you vulnerable to things like compassion fatigue.

So, what is compassion fatigue? Compassion fatigue can increase emotional intensity, decrease cognitive ability, and create a chronic activation of your stress response. Compassion fatigue can also contribute to provider burnout.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent compassion fatigue and recognize signs early.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue

Developing compassion fatigue can create cognitive dissonance, causing you to do and say things that don’t align with your values. If you’ve experienced disconnection like this, it’s important to recognize that these behaviors aren’t coming from a place of malice – it might just mean you’re dysregulated.

Here are a few emotional and physical signs you might be experiencing compassion fatigue:

  • Isolation: If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, you might find yourself pulling back from people who don’t work in the same field because they may not understand your experience.
  • Physical exhaustion: When you walk out of a psychiatric unit, do you feel like you have debilitating fatigue? This feeling might be compassion fatigue. On the physical side, you might also experience sleep and appetite disturbances.
  • On-the-job challenges: Working with behavioral health patients requires emotional regulation. Compassion fatigue can increase emotional intensity and decrease cognitive ability.

To view a complete list of compassion fatigue symptoms, visit The American Institute of Stress’s website for more information.

If these symptoms sound like something you’re experiencing, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are actions and solutions that can make your ability to do what you love easier.

How telehealth helps mental health providers combat compassion fatigue

One of the ways compassion fatigue can happen is by absorbing trauma, or experiencing what’s called secondary trauma. For example, as a provider, you may have one person come in and tell you stories about hard things they have experienced, they leave, and then the next person comes in and tells you their difficult stories. In turn, you may be absorbing this trauma.

Fortunately, virtual care modalities like telepsychiatry and teletherapy can help.

Here are a few benefits of remote behavioral health work:

  • A barrier to stress: The computer screen facilitates a bit of protection that allows providers to create more distance between themselves and their work. The screen provides a barrier allowing providers to make more informed choices from logic, rather than from emotion.
  • Safe, comfortable environment: Because you’re in your own home and space, you have more control over how you’re spending your time in between clients or after your appointments. Those regular on-site stressors are removed from your daily life and you’re in your safe space. However, it’s also important to be mindful of any stressors you might pull into your space. Taking a mindful approach when transitioning from work to life is essential.
  • No more commutes: When you don’t have to worry about an extensive commute, you can spend more time doing what you love. Working from home makes transitions into your personal life easier and creates more opportunity to relax, take meaningful breaks, and keep a more manageable pace in your day-to-day life.
  • Top notch support: At Iris Telehealth, we help ensure our providers have everything they need to thrive, not only in their work lives, but in their personal lives, too. That’s why we encourage our clinicians to take breaks throughout the day, provide a generous PTO policy, and ensure they get matched with an organization that aligns with their needs and values.

Want to learn more about life as a remote provider? Check out our Clinician Corner series to hear first-hand experiences from Iris’s own behavioral health clinicians.

Self-care tips for providers facing compassion fatigue

We’ve seen first-hand how compassion fatigue can lead to burnout in mental health professionals. What are you doing to help yourself get back to your baseline after you sign off for the day?

Here are our top four actions you can take to prioritize self-care:

  1. Practice mindfulness: Exercises like meditation, mindful walking, and gratitude can play a big role in helping you steer clear of compassion fatigue. You can also try setting aside dedicated time for deep breathing. For example, when your computer is booting up in the morning, let this process act as a queue to take four deep breaths. This technique can help you re-center yourself and prepare for the day.
  2. Get active and eat well: Find a way to move your body every day – whether that’s a five minute walk, an hour long workout, or more mini breaks throughout your day. It’s also important to make sure you get outside for at least five minutes every day and fuel your body with things you know are going to help you feel better, like eating a balanced diet.
  3. Seek out support: Having a community to lean on is essential to your well-being. This strategy can be met by joining a support group or talking with a person in your life who understands what you’re experiencing and can empathize and sympathize with you. Investing in therapy is also a good option for providers in the mental health space.
  4. Delegate responsibility: You don’t have to take on the world alone. Delegating responsibility and finding people you can ask to help is key. For example, is there someone who can help out with housekeeping? Or, someone who can help out with school pick-up? Figuring out where you can pull in help can be a game changer.

Compassion fatigue during the holidays

Compassion fatigue doesn’t take a break during the holidays, but it does provide a good opportunity to check-in. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we approach the holidays season.

As we head into the holiday season, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you using your break to look for a new job?
  • Are you finding it difficult to meaningfully connect with loved ones?
  • Do you have a lack of desire to do what you love?
  • Are you overindulging in things like alcohol or food? These can be used to mask what you’re actually feeling.
  • Are you using your time off to sleep instead of doing things you love?

If you answered “yes” to most of the questions above, you might be experiencing compassion fatigue. If this sounds like you, consider the following:

  • Create a plan to completely turn off during the holidays, and create a separation between yourself and your work
  • Create a plan to reset – close your computer down and move your chair away from your desk, or close the door on your office to create separation for yourself
  • Do something that brings you joy and find a way to connect with someone else
    Say no and set boundaries
  • Download the Calm app, check out online workout videos like Yoga with Adrienne, or try out some new mindfulness techniques from Positive Psychology

Where Iris Telehealth fits in

At Iris, we believe our providers should be applauded and celebrated for their work. That’s why we help ensure they have what they need to succeed – less paperwork, a low-stress environment, and great benefits. Want to learn more about what life at Iris looks like? Contact us today! We have opportunities available now for psychiatrists, PMHNPs, and LCSWs.

We want to hear from you. Seriously.

Whether you are a health organization looking to expand your telepsychiatry services or a prospective clinician who wants to join the team, we’d love to talk!