By Janet Coulter, MSN, MS, RN, CCM, FCM

Do you often feel exhausted after assisting a client with a complex situation? Are you emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of your workday or workweek? Do you overexpress empathy and feel the intensity and urgency of others' situations? Do you have limited patience and understanding for family members' issues after you have completed a day at work? You may be feeling empathy fatigue. 

Nurses deal with a wide variety of issues, and many are very complex. This overexposes the nurse to the emotional needs of others, which can lead to stress, burnout, and empathy fatigue. The resulting increased cortisol levels may impact the inability to respond with compassion and empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person's feelings and emotions. ("Empathy Examples (3 Comprehensive Examples) - PsychReel") It is an essential skill for nurses and a component of emotional intelligence. Empathy helps us relate better to others. However, the line between our feelings and what other people feel can get blurred. 

Empathy fatigue is physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from providing emotional support to others. Empathy fatigue can occur from having too much empathy. Research by Brené Brown indicates that empathy fatigue results from an inward-focused emotional response to others' needs. ("What Is Empathy Fatigue? (And 12 Ways To Overcome It) - Science of People") 

The signs of empathy fatigue include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Feeling emotionally drained.
  • Difficulty sleeping. 
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Physical exhaustion. 
  • Irritability. 
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected

Interventions to decrease the occurrence of emotional fatigue include: maintain perspective of the situation. 

  • Ask questions.
  • Try to understand the situation.
  • Remove biases from your mind.
  • Do not be judgmental.
  • Refrain from comparing your pain with the client's pain. 
  • Acknowledge your emotions. 
  • Practice mindfulness and self-awareness.
  • Set boundaries. 
  • Be a good listener.
  • Remember to feel with, not for, someone.
  • Tend to your basic needs. 
  • Take a social media break. 
  • Practice self-care and relaxation exercises. 
  • Engage in activities that bring you happiness.
  • Prioritize your mental health. 
  • Be aware of your thought patterns.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Schedule breaks on your calendar.
  • Take a break in the morning and afternoon.
  • Completely disconnected from work during lunch.
  • Do something new or go someplace you have not been before.
  • Engage in something fun or learn something.
  • Spend time with a trusted friend.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Talk to a therapist. 


Empathy fatigue happens when we take on other people's emotions as our own. ("What Is Empathy Fatigue? (And 12 Ways To Overcome It)—Science of People") In some situations, the nurse may have more emotions than the client. This can have a negative effect on the nurse and can even lead to PTSD. Addressing emotional fatigue starts with establishing boundaries and learning to better manage our own emotions. Empathy is a renewable but limited resource that can be depleted each day. 

Take time to "recharge" yourself every day. 

You deserve it!

Happy Nurses Week!

Empathy is a gift that needs to be used with care.

Don’t miss our 4-hour Writer's Workshop pre-con session making a comeback at #CMSA2024 due to popular demand, with presenters Janet Coulter and Mary Beth Newman: 🔗

What to Expect:

Writing Fundamentals

Overcoming the Fear of Writing

Idea Generation

Blogging Tips

Writing for Professional Publications

At the end, submit your blog for publication on with personalized feedback, guidance, and editing! Don't miss this chance to hone your writing skills and share your talents. Register now for #CMSA2024! 

Bio: Janet Coulter, MSN, MS, RN, CCM, FCM is a transplant case manager with a wide variety of experiences including educator, administrator, team leader, and Director of Case Management. Janet holds a Master of Science in Nursing from West Virginia University and a Master of Science in Adult Education from Marshall University. She has published many articles in CMSA Today and the Professional Case Management Journal and served as a reviewer for the Core Curriculum for Case Management Third Edition. She currently serves as President-Elect of CMSA,, Chair of the CMSA Today Editorial Board, Chair of the Nominations Committee, and Vice-President of the CMSA Foundation board. Janet was the recipient of the CMSA National Award of Service Excellence and Southern Ohio Valley CMSA Case Management Leadership award and was recently inducted as a Case Management Fellow from CMSA.