Day in and day out there are individuals who work tirelessly caring for others. Whether it be nurses or physicians in hospitals, first responders out in the field, volunteers at humanitarian or pet shelters, or simply someone caring for an ill parent or loved one, there comes a point when we need to be aware of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue occurs when the caregiver becomes overwhelmed and exhausted by the constant caring of others. As a result, their once passion and skill may turn to apathy. The emotional response that was once a driver for the caregiver, becomes flat and almost mundane.
As a hospital nurse manager, I have seen many RNs get to the point of compassion fatigue. Most RNs enter this field because they want to help the sick and make a difference in someone’s life. They come out of school with great enthusiasm, ready to take on the world and save lives. What they are not very well prepared for is the emotional toll caregiving takes on a person. I have heard that nurses have a strange sense of humor. This is often a coping mechanism to help them deal with the stress of caregiving. Everyday there are new patients with new social, financial, family and health circumstances. The caregiver inevitably finds herself in the middle of all these issues because after all, we don’t just treat a patient with a medical diagnosis, we treat holistically. Our goal is to help the patient find resources to help manage their specific situation so that the treatment plan for their medical issue is successful.
My personal philosophy is that happy nurses will lead to happy patients. This sounds very simple, but I have known this to be true over and over again. The demands of the nursing field are intense. Working hard to have balance and not allow work challenges to overcome your life is important for your success.
Here are a list of ways to help prevent compassion fatigue and continue to pursue your life’s passion:
Care for yourself daily
- Depending on your personal situation, this balance can seem like quite a challenge. Some ways to care for yourself include:
- Listening to music that makes you feel great to and from work
- Meditating on what you are thankful for throughout the day
- Exercise! I find exercising with a buddy is really fun
- Journal: this helps you to self-debrief and reflect on the events and your feelings from the day
Have a positive quote for the day
- Every day on our units, we have a quick huddle with both shifts where we discuss what is going well and end with a positive quote. We write the quote on our white board so that the staff can read it throughout the day.
Practice the Golden Rule
- Make it your goal to treat each patient and their loved ones as you would want to be treated. Remember that while you do this every day, this may be their first experience with the ever convoluted healthcare system.
- Have a potluck
- Set up parties outside of work
- Have birthday parties for patients and staff
- Getting to know your peers beyond the work setting allows everyone to build trust. When you trust one another, you will feel more comfortable discussing challenges at work.
Say Thank You
- This is vital for both leaders and staff. So often, a simple thank you, especially in the form of a note, will make anyone feel that the job they do is important. This will not only help to prevent compassion fatigue, but it will also motivate people to exceed expectations.
Seek Professional Assistance
- If you are finding that your drive and passion for what you do seems to be feeling more like having a tooth drilled, you may need to take advice that you would probably give to another and seek professional help. Many employers offer EAP (employee assistance program). This is often free or very low cost and is a great opportunity to speak with a counselor about compassion fatigue.