Compassion is an important component of any caregiver’s role, and it’s one of the most sought-after traits that anyone hiring a healthcare professional seeks.
Because compassion allows nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors, and even technicians to empathize with and understand their patients, it’s of utmost importance to understand “compassion fatigue” — and to learn how you can guard against it.
With diligent effort and dedication, even the most overworked healthcare professionals can avoid experiencing this condition.
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue — sometimes referred to as “burnout” — happens when caregivers or healthcare workers give too much of themselves or stretch themselves too thin while working with and treating patients.
In these instances, nurses and healthcare professionals may find themselves taking the stress into their personal lives and generally not taking care of their own needs. This can ultimately lead to no longer caring about the needs of patients.
The effects of fatigue in compassion on an individual can vary, but they all have a similar theme. Some signs that you may be experiencing compassion fatigue include a decline in your bedside manner, or an inability to show the appropriate empathy for patients and their families.
The same training designed to prepare nurse practitioners to excel can cause their sense of compassion to disintegrate. The experiences of addressing trauma, illness, and death can also contribute to this state.
Experiencing compassion exhaustion certainly doesn’t indicate a fatal flaw to your nursing career, but rather a bump to get over. Most often, healthcare workers dealing with this condition have not stopped investing in their patients — nor are they failing or bad at what they do.
Consider compassion fatigue more like a drop in enthusiasm due to exhaustion. It can happen when nurses or doctors become so burned out and stressed that their energy levels begin to decrease. In fact, even the most upbeat and energetic healthcare workers are likely to have experienced fatigue at some point in their careers.
This means, of course, that if you ever find yourself experiencing compassion fatigue, you can still bounce back with a renewed zest for your job. You just need to know how to address it.
Take time to address compassion fatigue.
Nurses and healthcare professionals work incredibly hard. The life of a nurse, aide, or nurse practitioner entails long hours, overtime, and erratic shifts. Lack of sleep, hours and hours on the floor, and the stress of dealing with real traumas can take a toll on your body, mind, and stamina.
When nurses start to feel the effects of compassion fatigue, they can make time for a transitional period. Engaging in an activity that takes the focus away from work can allow healthcare professionals to focus on their own health and well-being. Common methods of removing yourself from the stresses of your nursing job include things like exercising, writing in a journal, reading for pleasure, or simply meditating.
In addition to taking personal moments throughout the day, more extended time away is important as well. Scheduling and taking personal and vacation time can provide a much-needed break, allowing you to return to the workplace feeling refreshed.
There is no right or wrong way to address compassion fatigue. It’s a matter of realizing how much the issue is impacting your life and deciding how much time is needed to recuperate.
Take compassion fatigue case by case.
A byproduct of compassion-related fatigue is the tendency to start sifting people into particular 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 an aide taking a long time to finish a task.
Nurses can avoid this by taking their jobs case by case and day by day. It helps to make sure you view every patient as an individual with a unique set of symptoms or problems. When this feels impossible, it can be helpful to step away for a moment.
Ultimately, everyone benefits when you know how to acknowledge and address compassion fatigue.
Promote a balance when addressing compassion fatigue.
Nursing is a balancing act in all aspects. It’s imperative for all healthcare professionals to find a life balance. They must be able to listen to patients and feel for them without being affected to the point where it influences them personally.
Having empathy for the tragedies and misfortunes patients and their families experience can help you do your job well — but you have to learn how to avoid bringing those experiences home. Keeping your personal life and your professional life separate and maintaining this balance can go along way toward helping you stave off the effects of compassion fatigue.
Get the right nursing education.
Although compassion is a wonderful trait, you should keep in mind that it’s possible to remain compassionate for others while still taking care of yourself and your needs. After all — you can take much better care of others if you’re at your best.
Because issues like compassion fatigue are so prevalent, you can find tips on dealing with them through your nursing education.
Online nursing programs typically address compassion fatigue and other challenges, so you can offer the highest level of patient care possible. Check out Maryville University’s online nursing degree programs to see how they can prepare you to deal with the emotional and physical challenges of nursing — and help ensure you and your patients get the most out of your efforts.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Overcoming Compassion Fatigue”
Maryville University, Online Nursing Degrees
Ragan’s Health Care Communication News, “9 Ways to Avoid Compassion Fatigue”