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Do You Have Compassion Fatigue?

February 4, 2016

As a nurse, caring and compassion are a big part of your life. In fact, for many nurses, compassion for others is the characteristic that drove them into the profession in the first place. However, when you spend day after day caring for the sick and injured, you are at risk of developing a condition known as "compassion fatigue."

What is Compassion Fatigue?

"Compassion fatigue" is a term used to describe the state of secondary traumatic stress that develops in a person who spends time helping suffering animals or people. This condition may also be referred to as "caregiver burnout." 

What to Look for

You may have compassion fatigue if:

  • You feel unusually irritable. 

  • You feel emotionally and physically exhausted. 

  • You feel the urge to hurt yourself or one of your patients. 

  • You are getting sick more often than usual. 

  • You aren't sleeping well. 

  • You notice changes in your appetite. 

  • You are losing or gaining weight unintentionally. 

  • You have lost interest in activities you once enjoyed. 

  • You have the urge to withdraw from your friends and family. 

What Can You Do?

Compassion fatigue can impact your quality of life, as well as your productivity at work. If you suspect that you may be suffering from compassion fatigue, you need to deal with the problem as soon as possible. To combat this:

  • Take time for yourself. When you have a day off work, set aside some time to relax. Do something you enjoy, or simply spend some time lounging on the couch. If possible, try to set aside some relaxation time on workdays as well. 

  • Give yourself a break. Nurses are often too hard on themselves with regard to their performance at work. Although you should always do your best, you should also avoid being too critical of yourself, especially when it comes to the progress of your patients.

  • Talk to someone. If you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated about work, talk to a friend or family member you trust. If you are working as a travel nurse, consider sharing your concerns with a colleague

  • Seek professional help. If your compassion fatigue begins to affect your life significantly and you can't resolve it on your own, consider seeing a professional therapist. 

For nurses, compassion fatigue will always be a risk. However, by learning to recognize the signs and deal with this issue effectively when it occurs, you can prevent serious professional and personal problems.

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