In our experience in this industry, one of the things that has always stood out to us about the healthcare workers we partner with, is the compassion they display every single day. And when tragedy strikes, each of you are there to support those in need. But that leads us to another question: Who supports you while you serve as the rock for those in your charge over and over again? Who helps you as you face the effects of compassion fatigue?
Recognizing compassion fatigue
If you've never heard the term compassion fatigue, it is the title that recognizes an individual’s inability to continue nurturing and caring for those in their charge based on past experiences. This condition exists in many roles but was really first recognized in nurses in the late '80s and early '90s.
Compassion fatigue is similar to the more commonly heard burnout, but they have different root causes. Burnout is defined as a condition that arises when goals actively pursued are not met. Compassion fatigue, however, arises when caregiving objectives are administered and those procedures ultimately prove to be unsuccessful. Officially defined as; an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.
At the heart of recognizing compassion fatigue, is knowing a few of the symptoms; insomnia, addictive behavior, isolating oneself, depression, anxiety, or anger. Seems like everyday life in the chaos of 2018 and a healthcare role, no? Well, what about finding yourself being less motivated, or lacking your normal level of patience or sympathy towards your patient's needs? It's all just unfortunately, part of the roles we play with our career choice. You can't be expected to have super-human levels of care and sympathy, without eventually being depleted of those emotions...UNLESS you are proactively re-centering yourself in some way.
Seeking help for compassion fatigue
For nurses struggling with compassion fatigue, this is a challenge that cannot be ignored. Over time compassion fatigue has the potential to worsen and can start dictating a person's life and beliefs while hampering traditional coping mechanisms.
Nurses who feel as though they are suffering from compassion fatigue should seek out in-facility counseling or a support group to share their challenges with. They should never ignore the symptoms or assume they will go away.
Embrace the fact that compassion fatigue is real and begin taking steps to improve the condition.
To not leave you hanging and provide some immediate, proven ways to combat compassion fatigue, consider:
- Support groups and open discussions about compassion fatigue in the workplace
- Regular breaks (we know, we know, in the chaos we work in, sometimes this isn't always possible, but make the proactive effort!)
- Routine check-ins
- Mental health days (get out and explore your new location. You only have 13 weeks!)
- Onsite counseling
- Relaxation rooms, massage, meditation classes, etc. (me time! It may seem cheesy or selfish, but they can all work wonders w/ how we cope with the stress of our healthcare roles)
Compassion fatigue. It's a real thing, friends. Don't let it stop you from being the superhuman you are. Take care of yourself. Learn more about compassion fatigue, review this research from The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing and don't pass up the opportunity to speak about the condition with co-workers. Compassion fatigue is a real challenge facing compassionate nurses all across the country and speaking up is the first step toward recovery and a return to the care patients depend on every single day.