Nursing is one of the most highly respected careers, but also one of the most stressful. This kind of stress can lead to compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.
Compassion fatigue differs from burn-out, but can co-exist. It has a more rapid onset while burnout emerges over time.
According to the Nursejournal, compassion fatigue reportedly affects 16% to 39% of Registered Nurses, with most reports coming from Nurses working in areas like hospice, oncology, and emergency care. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of compassion fatigue is reportedly far greater among Nurses.
- Extreme exhaustion on a regular or daily basis
- Increased anger and irritability
- Diminished sense of self-worth
- Lower levels of job satisfaction
- Reduced ability to feel empathy
- Disruption of world view; irrational fears and extreme anxiety
- Impaired ability to make well-informed decisions
- Difficulty separating work and personal lives
- Dread going to work
- Increase in work absences and showing up late
- Failure to commit to any overtime when asked multiple times
Compassion fatigue is a treatable and manageable condition. Treating it starts with recognizing and admitting it is a real condition. From here, you can begin the process of healing.
Education is important for Nurses at risk for or experiencing compassion fatigue. Healthcare organizations should include educational training regarding therapeutic communication, establishing boundaries, conflict resolution, ethical dilemmas, and self-care.
Self-care methods are a great way to combat compassion fatigue. Nurses are constantly concerned with the needs of others and often neglect their own needs.
According to GoodTherapy, those who practice good self-care are significantly less vulnerable to stress and compassion fatigue than those who fail to do so. Generally self-care includes:
- Balanced, nutritious diet
- Regular exercise/meditation
- Routine schedule of restful sleep
- Balance between work and leisure
- Honoring emotional needs
Set emotional boundaries. Establishing these boundaries between ourselves and our patients is important so we don’t end up carrying their pain and experiences.
It is a challenge to stay compassionately connected while still remembering that each of us is a different and separate person. This awareness may help to maintain the space that exists between the caregiver and the patient.
Use a support system. Support can come from family or friends, mental health professionals, or like-minded individuals experiencing the same thing as you.
“It may not sound fancy or sophisticated, but building community is the most powerful thing you can do,” says Geoffry White, PhD, a private Practitioner in Los Angeles who has worked to prevent compassion fatigue in mental health practitioners responding after terrorism and war.
Compassion fatigue is a serious problem affecting many Nurses, Healthcare workers, families, and caregivers. You are human, and your work is incredibly demanding. With self-care, boundaries, and support from others, you can manage and ultimately beat compassion fatigue.