Compassion is an important part of any caregiver’s role, and it is one of the best, most sought-after traits that any healthcare professional can have. Because it allows nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors, and even technicians to empathize with and understand their patients, it is of utmost importance to not only understand “compassion fatigue” but to guard against it as well. With diligent effort and dedication, even the most overworked healthcare professionals can avoid experiencing it.
What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue, also sometimes referred to as burnout, is when a caregiver or worker gives so much of themselves, to the point of taking the stress into their personal lives, generally not taking care of their own needs, and ultimately leading to the burned-out state of no longer caring.
Different things occur with compassion fatigue, but they all have a similar theme. Your bedside manner may suffer as a result. You may become less and less empathetic with your patients and their families. The very training designed to make you an excellent nurse practitioner can cause your sense of compassion to fail. Your experiences in dealing with trauma, illness, and death play a part as well.
Experiencing compassion fatigue does not indicate a fatal flaw. Most often, healthcare workers dealing with it have not stopped being invested in their patients. They are not failing, nor are they bad at what they do. This simply happens when a nurse or doctor becomes so burned out and stressed that their energy levels begin to flag, and it’s difficult to feel as enthusiastic as they once did.
Take Time for Yourself
All healthcare professionals work incredibly hard. The life of a nurse, aide, or nurse practitioner involves long hours, overtime, and erratic shifts. Lack of sleep, hours and hours on the floor, and the stress of dealing with real traumas take a toll on your body, your mind, and your stamina.
Take time for yourself, even small increments of time during the day, where you do something for yourself. Consider exercising, writing in a journal, reading for pleasure, or simply meditating. In addition to taking moments for yourself throughout the day, more extended time away is important as well. Scheduling and taking personal and vacation time can really give you a much-needed break, so you can come back feeling refreshed.
Take It Case by Case
A byproduct of compassion fatigue is the tendency to start sifting people into labels because of a lack of energy or feelings of stress. It becomes easier to abstract the patient who keeps hitting the call button, the family asking for updates, or even the aide taking a long time to finish a task. Avoid this by taking it case by case and day by day. View every patient as an individual with a unique set of symptoms or problems. When this feels impossible, step away for a moment.
Promote a Balance
Nursing is a balancing act in all aspects. When you work in healthcare, you have to find a balance in all areas of your life. You have to learn how to listen to your patients and their stories and feel for them without being affected to the point where it influences your personal life. You can have empathy for the tragedies and misfortunes your patients and their families experience, and do your very best to care for them, but don’t bring it home.
Make time for a transitional period. Go for a walk or head to the gym. Grab some alone time after work. Engage in an activity you enjoy that brings the focus of your life away from work and back to your health and well-being.
Similarly, you must maintain a fair work/life balance. You don’t bring your personal life to work, and you should not bring your work life home. You also need to take that time for yourself, for the good of your patients and colleagues, not to mention your family.
Although it’s a wonderful trait, remember that it is possible to remain caring and compassionate while still taking care of yourself. Allow yourself moments of calm and relaxation, listen to the stories your patients and colleagues share, and maintain a healthy balance between your work life and your personal life.