The Cost of Caring: Compassion Fatigue & helping care providers manage burnout

community menstrual health somatic healing workplace wellness Sep 20, 2021

It’s been over a year and a half since the Global Pandemic began and the impact on mental health has been significant. Increased isolation, fear, uncertainty, and socio-economic fallout have created the perfect storm for growing anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. 

Most recently, there have been reports of the overwhelming number of healthcare workers leaving the frontlines of the healthcare system, suffering from severe burnout and stress. Frontline workers have a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression, PTSD, Insomnia and phobias. This, in part, is due to prolonged periods of hypervigilance required for severely ill and dying patients, and  higher patient to care worker  to patient ratios. Dysregulated nervous systems require more practical strategies and body based approach to bring a sense of calm when not in direct contact with patients. Similarly, a greater emphasis on community based approach to mental health is needed to created a circle of support beyond traditional one on one therapy solutions. 

 Health care workers aren’t alone in their occupational challenges. Mental health workers are seeing higher caseloads with increased duration of therapy, especially with clients/patients suffering relapses in addiction. The risk of emotional contagion, feelings of loss of effectiveness in providing adequate care to individuals and families have presented very real challenges for those providing care and support. When care providers experience burnout and high levels of stress, this weakens the link of compassionate care  needed to get through the challenges of the Pandemic. 

Compassion fatigue refers to repeated exposure to human suffering and the resulting effects which include:

Reduced capacity for feelings of empathy

Secondary Trauma


Physiological changes and disease

Particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of stress is the reproductive system. One study suggests that as much as 80% of women reporting menstrual cycle irregularities experience moderate to severe levels of stress. With menstruating people accounting for a large percentage of those in caregiving roles, critical attention must be given to mitigation strategies.

Circle of Care

A circle of care allows for recovery and healing to take place at the community level. This means that support systems including family, cultural and community networks all come together to ensure the well-being of individuals. Too often, support workers are poorly resourced and experience significant time poverty when implementing self-care strategies. It is simply not enough to provide tools without addressing all the other constraints and barriers to stress relief. Effective strategies include prevention ( addressing limitations within the work environment), assessment ( self-checks, noticing symptoms of burnout) and mitigation of the negative impacts of a stressful work environment.

Hao, Qinjian, et al. "Prevalence and risk factors of mental health problems among healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Frontiers in Psychiatry 12 (2021).

2  Joshi, Gunjan, and Ginni Sharma. "Burnout: A risk factor amongst mental health professionals during COVID-19." Asian journal of psychiatry 54 (2020): 102300.

Wyskida, K., et al. "The impact of stress on the regularity of menstrual cycle during COVID-19 pandemic." Obesity Facts (2021): 77-77.

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