Career Development

5 Ways Nurses Can Prevent Compassion Fatigue

5 Ways Nurses Can Prevent Compassion Fatigue

By Jane Anderson, contributor

Healthcare workers, first responders, and law enforcement personnel may fall victim to compassion fatigue. The warning signs vary among professionals and include a mix of emotional, physical and behavioral symptoms. 

Merriam-Webster states that compassion fatigue is "the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those who care for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time." Compassion fatigue differs from nurse burnout as it's not caused by job stress but by taking on other people's burdens.

5 Ways to Prevent Compassion Fatigue

Retired nurse Tammy Hoyle says that compassion fatigue is definitely a risk for nurses, especially those that work in positions that involve long-term relationships with patients or end-of-life care. Here are a few tips for mitigating this risk during your nursing career.

1. Plan ahead

Set boundaries and strategies beforehand so you know how to comfort someone without sacrificing your emotional well-being. Having a plan of action in place for uncomfortable scenarios will lessen the pressure when they occur.

Hoyle says, “You can’t be surprised by emotional situations. In some nursing jobs, you know they happen. You need skills for dealing with them.”

2. Practice self-care

There are plenty of books and articles written on the importance of self-care in the nursing profession. Meditation, exercise and nutritious foods help keep your mind and body in a healthy state, which can help you withstand a barrage of external factors that may lead to compassion fatigue.

3. Take advantage of employer-sponsored assistance programs

Hospitals are focused on reducing compassion fatigue by offering a variety of relief programs. Make sure you take scheduled breaks and find a private area to recharge. Continuing education seminars often have classes devoted to stress reduction and relaxation techniques.

“Taking breaks is important,” says Hoyle. “You need a break from the work and sometimes from the situation. It’s easy to put patients first and forget about yourself, but sometimes you need to step away from the situation and regroup.”

4. Create balance in your life

Your after-work life should be a safe haven from emotional stressors whenever possible, and certainly a break from work stress. Many healthcare workers leave the hospital and immediately start ministering to family and friends. Make sure to make time for yourself. Find an enjoyable hobby or sport, delve into your spiritual side and enjoy some just-for-fun family outings.

5. Surround yourself with positive people

Nonjudgmental friends and licensed therapists offer a listening ear when you need it the most. Try to avoid people who are excessively needy and drain your energy. Your friends have a huge impact on your life, so choose them wisely.

Adopt a compassion fatigue treatment plan from the above list to safeguard your mental health. If you learn to manage your emotional reservoir, you’ll be able to provide more than enough sympathetic care to your patients, family and friends.

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