Teacher suffering from compassion fatigue.

How Teachers Can Overcome Compassion Fatigue

One in three children in the United States suffers at least one serious trauma, according to the 2018 National Survey for Children’s Health. As an elementary school teacher, that means a third of your students may struggle with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Supporting your students through their struggles, on top of supporting all students through the difficulties that the pandemic brought on everyone can decrease your health and instruction quality. If you are experiencing compassion fatigue, it’s ok. Here are some tips to help you overcome it.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Also known as secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue is the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that comes from caring for traumatized individuals, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Teachers can experience this distress even after interacting with just one child with PTSD.

Compassion Fatigue vs Burnout

Burnout comes from being overworked while compassion fatigue specifically refers to the distress that comes from dealing with trauma victims. It causes a deeper level of emotional exhaustion and can negatively impact your personal and professional relationships.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

According to Michael Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D and Ashley Zultanky, PsyD with Behavior Therapy Associates, signs of compassion fatigue include:

  • Irritability, anxiety, agitation, frustration, and anger
  • Depersonalization and feeling disconnected from others
  • Decreased feelings of empathy and sympathy
  • Increased and chronic psychological and emotional fatigue
  • Apathy, disinterest, or dread related to working for or taking care of others
  • Physiological and physical discomfort
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Noticing thoughts about being “unfulfilled” in the role of professional

How to Deal with Compassion Fatigue

First of all, remember you are not alone. Studies Weekly’s Well-Being Curriculum specialist, Larissa Chase, has spoken with many teachers who feel emotionally exhausted from COVID-19 and its impact on children’s emotional and mental health.

“It’s been challenging for teachers to meet the increasing needs of students while also taking care of themselves and family members,” Chase said. “Fortunately, there are ways to take care of your emotional and mental well-being.”

If you feel like you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, here are some self-care tips that can help:

  • Nurture Close Friendships — Schedule time to hang out with friends during evenings and weekends. You can also call a friend during your lunch break.
  • Don’t Bury Negative Feelings — Share how you feel with someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or counselor. As you do, be sure to also respect students’ confidentiality.
  • Develop Your Talents — What else do you like to do besides teaching? Become really good at it by taking classes, watching tutorials, or practicing with friends. As you do, you’ll feel better about yourself.
  • Listen to Inspirational Music — Create a playlist of all your favorite songs and listen to them to and from work. If allowed, enjoy music during breaks as well.
  • Evaluate How News Affects You — If you feel worse after reading or listening to the news, consider taking a break from it or looking for positive news instead.
  • Practice Mindfulness — Research published in the Journal of Doctoral Nursing Practice proved that practicing mindfulness prevents emotional drain. Take a few minutes to clear your mind by focusing on your breathing or what you see, hear, feel, and smell.
  • Effective Journaling — Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be very therapeutic. If you don’t like writing, you can keep an audio or video journal using your phone or computer.
  • Get Enough Sleep — Set an alarm or find a way to keep track of the time so you don’t stay up late. If you know you’re going to have to get up earlier, go to bed earlier so you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep.
  • Show Gratitude — Don’t just feel gratitude, express it! Write what you’re grateful for in a journal, post it on social media, or share it with a friend.

Studies Weekly Well-Being periodicalsUtilizing Social-Emotional Learning

One of the best things you can do to prevent compassion fatigue is to teach your students how to take care of their emotional health. Through our social-emotional learning (SEL) program, you and your students can learn research-based coping strategies. As your students get better at managing their emotions, you’ll have more time and energy to invest in teaching.


To see samples of our PK-6 SEL program, visit our samples page.

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