Recognize the Signs of Compassion Fatigue, and Help Educators

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. – Henry B. Adams

This quote evokes the real essence of the teaching profession. An educator’s job does not stop with teaching theories and facts. In many cases, educators also help and support the emotional development of their students. Their influence here is often underrated, and the pressures here are high. Many educators take on a lot of emotional stress. When they’ve had more than they can handle, teachers begin to show signs of compassion fatigue.

According to the Data Resource Center For Child and Adolescent Health, students aged 6-17 with mental, emotional, or behavioral concerns are 3x more likely to repeat a grade. Severe depression rates among U.S. college students doubled from 2007 to 2018. Another study by the Journal of Medical and Internet research found out that  48% of US college students showed a moderate-to-severe level of depression, 38% showed a moderate-to-severe level of anxiety, and 18% had suicidal thoughts.

In light of these statistics, educators must be prepared to listen and support students with mental health issues. Mental health support isn’t their job, and professional help should also be brought into the picture. However, educators tend to be compassionate and empathic people and may provide some amount of emotional support. 

The problem is when a person is constantly required to show and feel compassion, or when empathy is used repeatedly, it is only a matter of time before they show signs of compassion fatigue. When this happens, educators are at risk of emotional and physical exhaustion.

Read on and learn how we can nurture a workplace that supports wellness that can help educators overcome the signs of compassion fatigue.

What Is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is essentially a type of stress that is caused by supporting or wanting to help those who have been traumatized or are experiencing significant emotional distress. 

Compassion fatigue among teachers is very common because they interact and empathize with students, who are frequently young, impressionable, and in need. Educators also feel a great deal of responsibility for their students, who may have experienced, or be experiencing, various forms of trauma. Students often seek advice from educators, especially if they lack a trusted adult in their lives. Add insufficient resources, large class sizes, and challenging student behavior to the mix and soon you will see compassion fatigue symptoms among your faculty.

Compassion fatigue can also occur as a result of one case’s exposure or as a result of a “cumulative” level of trauma. According to The American Institute of Stress, compassion fatigue can also be referred to as “vicarious traumatization” or secondary traumatization. It differs from burn-out but can co-exist with that condition. 

The common symptoms of compassion fatigue mimic those of other mental health challenges:

  • Nervous system arousal (Sleep disturbance)
  • Increased emotional intensity
  • Decreased cognitive ability
  • Impaired judgment
  • Isolation and loss of morale
  • Depression and PTSD
  • Loss of self-worth and emotional modulation
  • Damaged identity, worldview, and spirituality
  • Loss of hope and meaning
  • Anger toward perpetrators or causal events

How Can We Help Educators Combat Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue can directly cause depression and other mental health concerns. This is why combating compassion fatigue is crucial for those overseeing educators. According to a recent UCL Institute of Education study, one in every 20 teachers, or about 5%, suffers from a mental illness that has lasted or is likely to last more than a year. Dr. Charles R. Figley, PhD, founder of the Traumatology Institute at Tulane University says that compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard of any professionals who use their emotions and their heart.

As employers, whenever our faculty is showing signs of compassion fatigue, how can we help our faculty and staff overcome these concerns?

Encourage Self-Care Routines

Because educators care so much about their students, they sometimes forget to leave something for themselves, which worsens signs of compassion fatigue. Giving can make your educators depleted, leaving them with nothing to give. Educators tend to go beyond the call of duty and render extra working days and hours. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 31% of single-job holders and 58% of multi-job holders work on weekends.

Remember that in order to give, you must first fill yourself. Encourage faculty members to engage in self-care activities such as meditation, quiet time, and other forms of relaxation. You can accomplish this by keeping weekends and holidays off-limits and ensuring that all work activities take place during the week.

Stress can be alleviated by engaging in self-care activities. Dr. Barbara Markway, Ph.D says that stressed educators should “Focus on activities that encourage you to zone in on your senses, such as breathing exercises, aromatherapy, or massages. You could also do things that make you happy, like crafting, going to the movies, or taking a walk.”

Support Them In Setting Up Boundaries

Boundaries are very important. That is why educators need to know where to draw the line and stop being too involved. You can accomplish this by bringing in trained professionals such as counselors and psychologists to your school. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends that districts employ one school psychologist for every 500 to 700 students. By having trained counselors on the school premises, it will help relieve the pressures on educators and will support them in recognizing and addressing the signs of compassion fatigue.

Learning institutions should understand why it is critical to have programs available to provide students with the assistance they require. It is also important to provide educators with training in identifying and responding to at-risk children. All of this additional support can assist educators in setting boundaries and maintaining their mental health. Remember, management plays a huge role in supporting employee wellness.

Assure Educators That There’s Only So Much That They Can Do

Educators must be reminded that part of protecting their own emotional state and being present for their students means acknowledging and accepting that there is only so much they can do to support their students. They can’t keep on giving while ignoring signs of compassion fatigue. Acceptance has been linked to better psychological health, by creating a healthier response to negative stressors.

Encourage educators to concentrate on things they can control rather than things they can’t. Keep the workplace psychologically safe for educators to rest and feel supported. Tell them that it’s okay to just be there for students even if you can’t change their lives in all areas. Assure them that simply being present, believing in them, providing a safe environment at school, and demonstrating that there is an adult in their life who cares about them and in whom they can place their trust will make a significant difference in that student’s life.

Establish In-School Support Program

One of the biggest factors in amplifying signs of compassion fatigue is when schools fail to provide the necessary support for students and educators. This lack of support will cause undue emotional stress and even physical harm to the faculty members. According to the National Teacher and Principal Survey, half of the teachers said they didn’t feel supported or encouraged. Six out of ten faculty members said they didn’t feel much teamwork. Additionally, 71% of teachers say they have little control over what they teach in their classrooms.

To combat signs of compassion fatigue, management must provide an additional support system for the faculty. One way is to create a teacher support network. According to preliminary data from over 13,000 school staff and faculty members who participated in their district’s Panorama Distance Learning surveys in 2020, more than one-fifth of educators were “quite” or “extremely” concerned about their well-being. This is why school administrators must be deeply involved and try to understand educators’ struggles. By putting your people first they know their work is valued and appreciated.

Educator’s Well-Being: Combating Compassion Fatigue

Emotional and physical exhaustion leads to diminished empathy in educators with compassion fatigue. This is often called the “negative cost of compassion.” Helping others has a negative psychological impact, especially on those who have been through a traumatic event. It is frequently confused with burnout, which is a cumulative sense of exhaustion or unhappiness

Educators are highly susceptible to showing signs of compassion fatigue. In addition to being overworked, they also serve as a listener, a helper, an ally, and a caring adult to whom their student can turn. Every day, as an educator, they may see a number of students who are traumatized. That is why employers and the school administration should take on a more active role in ensuring that your employees are well taken care of, both physically and mentally.

Contact Aduro for our wellness and well-being solutions and start supporting your educators today.