Compassion is an essential attribute that nurses must posses in order to provide appropriate care to the patients and families they come in contact with. Nurses work many long shifts taking care of sick patients and grieving families, and may not take the time to care for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs properly. After a while, the long hours and stress may catch up with them and cause compassion fatigue or even burnout. Nurses must learn to care for themselves first and foremost in order to be healthy, happy and spiritually sound, and this in turns allows them to provide great care to their patients as well as their own family.
The purpose of this paper is to identify the warning signs of compassion fatigue, explain the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the caregiver and share examples of coping strategies and resources for nurses. Compassion fatigue “is characterized by deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones and their co-workers”(Mathieu, 2007). When a nurse experiences this type of fatigue, it is important to be aware of what is happening because their current state must be addressed and dealt with in order to prevent further complications.
Compassion fatigue “is marked by increased cynicism at work, a loss of enjoyment of our career, and eventually can transform into depression, secondary traumatic stress and stress-related illnesses”(Mathieu, 2007). The Cleveland Clinic (2009) states that “caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude– from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. ” Burnout happens when a nurse focuses to much on meeting the demands of the job and less on taking care of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of oneself.
Caregiver burnout not only happens to nurses and health care provides, but to family members that are taking care of a loved one as well. Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue There are a number of warning signs for compassion fatigue, but each person will develop different signs unique to their situation. Some of the signs include exhaustion, reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy, dread of working with certain patients, diminished sense of enjoyment of nursing, and difficulty of separating work life from personal life.
When a caregiver experiences compassion fatigue, they typically will go through five stages including the idealistic phase, the irritability phase, the withdraw phase, the zombie phase and the pathology and victimization or maturation and renewal. Each phase has unique characteristics that the caregiver will exhibit. The characteristics of the first phase or the idealistic phase is normal and how a caregiver should feel including being motivated and ready to solve problems, a desire to make a difference, volunteer to assist and full of energy and enthusiasm.
The second phase or the irritability phase begins when the caregiver starts to cut corners, avoid patients, being to disregard their own wellness, lose focus and start distancing themselves from friends and family. The withdraw phase is the third phase and this begins when the nurse starts to lose patience with the patient, neglects oneself and others, has chronic fatigue and views them self as the victim. The next phase is the zombie phase which is characterized by being easily angry, dislike of others, loss of sense of humor and personality and seeing others as incompetent.
The last phase can be when the caregiver either chooses pathology and victimization or maturation and renewal. Either the nurse becomes to overwhelmed to deal with the situation and decides to change profession or develops a physical illness or the caregiver takes time to seek help and take care of the issue at hand and continues providing care for others. Needs of the Caregiver Nursing and other caregivers must understand the importance of taking care of themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. Providing the best care to patients includes taking care of oneself.
Physical health includes a healthy diet, exercise and getting enough rest and relaxation. Without these three crucial things “the body rebels with decreased immunity to common illnesses” (GCU, 2011). No only does the health care provider need to preserve good physical health, but “it is about being present with one’s feelings, sensations and intuitive guidance in order to detect what is best in any given moment” (Portnoy, 2011). Emotional health is an individuals over all well being and how a persons feels about them self.
Emotionally healthy individuals are able to manage their feeling easily, balance work and home life and feel a sense of satisfaction. “People with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress”(Smith, Segal & Segal, 2013), this is called resilience. Each person is different and may require different methods of dealing with emotional stress, the important thing is to establish the method that works for the individual and maintain that in order to restore emotional health.
Being spiritually healthy is highly relevant to the wellness of a health care provider because this gives them meaning to life and what they do. “Just as the physical body needs rest, recuperation, and healthy nutrition, the soul need time for spiritual restoration, encouragement, and faith-building”(GCU, 2011). Spirituality may consist of praying, reading the bible or attending church, and will vary with each individual, but what’s most important is to remain spiritually sound in order to cope with daily stresses and provide care with compassion and consideration.
Coping Strategies The best way to cope with compassion fatigue is to prevent it by knowing the warning signs, but there are also coping strategies that can effectively help health care providers overcome it. Recognizing and acknowledging the sign and symptoms is the first step in conquering compassion fatigue. Next the symptoms need to be addressed so that the person can understand them and why it is happening. There may also be internal conflict that needs to be evaluated.
Finding some sort of support to help the individual through this time and being able to talk about what their needs are can help with overcoming the fatigue. If this does not help the person cope with the situation at hand, professional help may need to be considered to treat their compassion fatigue. Again, this is where physical, emotional and spiritual health are very important. Being physically, emotionally and spiritually intact will contribute to an easier recovery or possibly avoidance of compassion fatigue and even burnout.
Knowing the resources that are available to nurses and health care providers for compassion fatigue is key to helping them restore themselves. Health care facilities should provide some type of programs that focus on fighting compassion fatigue and burnout. There are many online resources such as www. myselfcare. org that provides articles and quizzes that discuss fatigue and burnout. If an individual is suffering from compassion fatigue and having a hard time coping they may need to be seen by a doctor to address the severity and need for further counseling.
In conclusion, the most important job a nurse has is to take care of themselves mentally, physically and spiritually in order to provide the best care to the patients and families they take care of. A health care worker should be aware of the warning signs of compassion fatigue in order to circumvent the problems that it triggers. Health care providers need to remember that without being healthy in all aspects of their mind, body and soul, they cannot provide the best care for the patients as well as their own family.