“Compassion fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is 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.”
Dr. Charles Figley, Professor, Paul Henry Kurzweg Distinguished Chair
Director, Tulane Traumatology Institute, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
Nurses are natural candidates for compassion fatigue:
- We work with the dying or seriously and chronically ill.
- We must comfort patients’ family members.
- We treat the victims of major accidents or wife-beating or child abuse.
- Not only do we a daily basis witness the results of disasters; we also see the results of human cruelty.
In addition, nurses may have to deal with short staffing, long work hours, the incivility of others at their workplace, and feeling invalidated or dismissed.
Any LNC who continues to work in a medical setting is equally vulnerable to these conditions. In addition, LNCs may suffer the stress of trying to launch a new business.
Even when the business is launched, in addition to the long-term challenge of making it flourish, LNCs may have to deal with impatient, frantic lawyers.
Some cases are more difficult to tackle than others. I had vivid dreams after immersing myself in the records of severely Injured patients.
Thus, leaving the full-time world of nursing doesn’t guarantee exemption from compassion fatigue.
Not every nurse responds to stressful circumstances with compassion fatigue. Like everyone, we have different degrees of resiliency. However, you should be aware of the warning signs so you can recognize them in yourself or in colleagues.
Early Signs of Compassion Fatigue
- Boredom with work
- Detachment and distance from patients or clients
- Short tempers, irritability
- Feelings of failure and loss of pride
- Sleepless nights during which you replay disturbing events
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- Dread of going to work
- Headaches, backaches
- Decrease in work efficiency and accuracy
- Feeling hostile to co-workers and family
- Constant tiredness, possible illness
Untreated compassion fatigue can also lead to forms of addiction.
Reducing/Preventing Compassion Fatigue
Shift your focus to self-care and self-compassion. Take the work breaks you need. A good rule of thumb is to do something for yourself at least once a day.
Be self-reflective. Learn to recognize the feelings you have when working on cases involving severe trauma.
Don’t push negative physical and emotional feelings down. Trace the roots of these feelings.
Notice when you start thinking critically about yourself. See what happens when you replace self-criticism with self-kindness.
Mindfulness can play a powerful role in stress reduction. Ask yourself what negative physical or mental feelings are trying to tell you. Understand your reactions to situations or circumstances.
Ask for outside help if you need it. Nurses are so accustomed to helping others that they are reluctant to ask for help for themselves. Don’t hesitate. If you need extra prodding, remember this is for you, your family, and the clients you serve. They all need you. And you need a healthy and happy you.
Do you think of yourself as a strong, capable person who is invincible? Do you think you are above average in your ability to handle a crisis? Do you think you can keep working through tension and stress?
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