Combating Compassion Fatigue for Nurses
The role of the nurse when taking care of a patient will encompass many tasks. This means everything from giving pain medication, education on disease process, making the bed, assisting the patient to the bathroom, or being present in a time of emotional distress. The nurse will always work to meet the needs of the patient to promote overall health. What this consistent requirement of the role of the nurse can create is compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue has been defined as a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress (Lombardo & Eyre, 2011). It is important for nurses to learn the warning signs of compassion fatigue and what resources are available to them to help combat compassion fatigue. To help a nurse or caregiver better understand compassion fatigue the following will discuss the warning signs of compassion fatigue, the problems these warning signs will create, the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs the nurse will need to combat compassion fatigue, and finally coping strategies and resources that are available to combat compassion fatigue.
Warning Signs for Compassion Fatigue When a nurse is experiencing compassion fatigue the symptoms may be unnoticed to the person at that time. When looking for signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue it is important that everyone is educated on what to look for. Five major areas of a nurse’s life can be affected, physical, emotional, spiritual, personal, or work environment (Portnoy, 2011). Within each of these areas there are different signs and symptoms that the nurse may experience. Physical warning signs may include sleep disturbance, digestive problems, or frequent headaches. These signs and symptoms are brought on as the nurse is taking very little time to care for individual health. Frequent headaches and digestive problems are brought on during times of poor diet that can lead to sleep disturbances. As a nurse attempts to meet all patients needs throughout the day many times proper nutrition for the nurse is excluded. This may be due to not eating at normal intervals or the choice to eat on the go, so the body has no adequate time for digestion. Emotional warning signs may include irritability, poor focus, or depression. These emotional warning signs are caused from providing care in high emotional settings. This setting can include post trauma units, the ICU, or NICU. In each of these settings the patient outcomes may not be what the nurse or the family desires, so it will require the nurse to tend to the emotions of the patient or family while masking their own. Holding in emotions of sadness or fear may cause the nurse to start to isolate one’s self leading to depression. Irritability and poor focus is related to the nurse trying to cover emotions and then being asked to expose them when not being ready to do so. Spiritual warning signs seen within a nurse suffering compassion fatigue may include the questioning of own beliefs or the loss of faith. The loss of faith is seen when nurses continue to care for patients that are dying from chronic or traumatic conditions. This burden that is placed on the nurse to provide the best care for the patient who is dying can be cumbersome and then leave the nurse questioning why is this happening to this patient or this family. To see this happening over and over may then lead the nurse to start to question the belief system and faith as it seems to be failing so many people that are being cared for. Work related warning signs may include apathy, a lack of joy, or avoidance in the work environment. People who choose the role of the nurse are usually of the empathetic personality, however during compassion fatigue, the nurse can be seen as apathetic towards both coworkers and patients. This apathy is what then cause the nurse to