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Compassion Fatigue in Nurses: What Is It and How to Combat It?

by Laxman Thapa
Compassion Fatigue in Nurses: What Is It and How to Combat It?

Healthcare workers frequently interact with patients suffering from extreme distress who want their caregivers to remain constantly attentive. Sometimes, a stage comes when healthcare practitioners can blow their “pity fuse” and become incapable of feeling compassion for their clients. This condition is now identified as compassion fatigue among nurses. Some experts termed it secondary traumatic stress or STS, whereas burnout is the impact of compassion fatigue on nurses. Among healthcare workers, this condition has been discovered among RNs who find themselves negatively influenced by their patients’ trauma.

How can nurses overcome STS?

So, compassion fatigue is described as the negative outcome of serving as caregivers for people. When a nurse’s responsibilities become overwhelming, it may cause that nurse to become unable to provide the required empathetic caregiving facilities to a patient. During an ongoing pandemic where our nurses are worried about personal problems, compassion fatigue has become a mini-epidemic among health workers. It makes RNs preoccupied and unsympathetic. While burnout develops over time, we can see that compassion fatigue can arise abruptly. However – unlike burnout – it’s easily treatable. So, we have described some strategies here for nurses to help them overcome STS and recover emotionally:

  • Distract yourself, productively

Often nurses find themselves reliving stressful moments from their workplace even after work hours, which significantly impacts their mental well-being. In this regard, distracting yourself becomes highly imperative. And by distractions, we are suggesting that you pursue a hobby or activity that you like. A productive and more viable way to distract yourself is by enrolling in higher academic programs. They will completely divert your attention from workplace stressors, all the while propelling your career advancement prospects. However, it’s best to opt for online programs since they are more manageable. And look for those that align with your career specialization and aspirations. If you’re a family nurse practitioner, check out an online MSN-FNP program and distract yourself productively. 

  • Maintain your health

Ensure that self-care is your priority. Caregivers need to cater to their needs as well. When you neglect your well-being, it can negatively influence your performance, rendering you an easy target for compassion fatigue. Also, try meditating. We suggest polarity therapy to enhance yourself emotionally after a long and hard day. Exercise doesn’t just boost your physical fitness but also sharpens your mind. Moreover, you adhere to the following practices:

  • Sleep regularly
  • Consume healthy stuff
  • Spend some time in nature
  • Change your schedule

Have you achieved a proper work-life balance in your career? Many health workers contract mental health problems such as STS when they haven’t balanced these two aspects of their lifestyles. We’re suggesting you change your schedule to accommodate your personal affairs. You don’t have to work for twelve hours straight because your colleagues work like that. Remodel your work plan according to your satisfaction since overworking can easily lead to compassion fatigue.

  • Enjoy your work

Do you find your workplace enjoyable? Experts believe that “workplace stress” may cause a decline in compassion among health workers by making them immune to empathy. If the workplace atmosphere is healthy, supportive, and collaborative, it can contribute to your well-being. So, create meaningful relationships with your colleagues by fostering camaraderie with them. Make your workplace a pleasant location where you’re not undervalued in any way.

  • Hang out often

Spend some time with your friends to prevent cases of stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. It’s believed that friendly people are less vulnerable to mental health issues. We suggest hanging out more often with your non-work friends to avoid work-related discussions after the shift’s over. So, chat with your buddies, have a meal with them, or attend different events with them. It can make you mentally (and physically) relaxed. Loneliness may trigger compassion fatigue in you.

  • Get a hobby

Hobbies can distract you from all the stress/anxiety of treating patients. So, nurses should adopt good pastimes to remain engaged at work. It’ll help your compassion fatigue when you take a break from stressful activities. Indeed, pastimes are creative activities that refresh people and keep them emotionally healthy. There are many hobbies to choose from now, such as gardening, painting, cooking, knitting, and dancing.

  • Join support groups

How about connecting with RNs who face similar issues? You can join caregiver support programs to interact with nurses who have experienced compassion fatigue. There are even online support groups for RNs to learn from people’s experiences. People can also tell you about the ways they overcame compassion fatigue. 

Whether you join these programs physically or digitally, they are beneficial for RNs willing to prevent burnout.

  • Seek professional intervention

Mental health treatment shouldn’t remain taboo anymore. It’s reported that almost one-fifth of the people in America received various mental health treatments in 2018. So, when you’re overwhelmed by your emotions and things become unbearable for you, consider seeking professional assistance. We suggest seeking therapy or counseling for processing your feelings and identifying your triggers. What can a therapist/counselor do for you? Well, they can help discover compassion fatigue’s symptoms.

  • Identify the symptoms

Many experts have identified the symptoms of compassion fatigue. They categorized this condition and related symptoms into physical, emotional, and work-related. Even a single of the numerous symptoms we’ll mention here can confirm the occurrence of this condition. But experts look for several indicators before identifying the fundamental cause. So, we suggest being watchful of these symptoms. Here’s a breakdown of some indications of this effect:

  • Physical symptoms: Fatigue, insomnia, headache, cardiac problems, and muscle tension
  • Emotional symptoms: Anxiety, Irritability, resentment, restlessness, mood swings, and inability to remember something correctly
  • Work-related symptoms: Avoiding patients, not feeling joyfulness, using sick days often, and feeling unable to be empathetic towards patients and their families

Conclusion

During the pandemic, compassion fatigue has become a grave concern for nurses nationwide. You can guess how this problem has accelerated due to COVID-19. It’s a condition in which nurses interact excessively with their patients and eventually lose the ability to feel compassion. So, how can nurses overcome this condition? We suggest undergoing therapy/counseling and enhancing your overall understanding of it. Focus on your health, get yourself a pastime, and make meaningful connections with work pals. Also, change your schedule to fit better with your lifestyle. That’s how you can remain immune to compassion fatigue.

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