If you ask anyone in the field of healthcare, they will tell you that nursing is a very demanding profession. Many nurses feel weighed down by the emotional and physical demands of their chosen career. They may feel that their efforts go without acknowledgement. They may feel overwhelmed by their workload and feel they do not have adequate support or recourses to confidently and efficiently perform their roles. Part of the nurse’s role is to exhibit compassion for patients and their family members. Yet, compassion is an emotion that requires inner conviction and resiliency (Bush, 2009). When a nurse to facing fatigue and burnout, this compassionate feeling is replaced with feelings of apathy. It is important to recognize the signs of impending compassion fatigue and have knowledge of effective strategies to combat these feelings.
Symptoms and Triggers
Compassion fatigue to a term used to describe the unique stressors that affect individuals in a caregiver role (Bush, 2009). Some emotional symptoms to identify are anxiety, low self- esteem, powerlessness, and anger. Physical symptoms that are common are irritability, sleeplessness, and somatic pains. Environmental and emotional stressors of the workplace are what contribute to compassion fatigue. All caregivers at risk fro developing compassion fatigue, yet some may be more susceptible than others. All caregivers are at risk for developing compassion fatigue, yet there are some that may be more susceptible than others. Every person responds to emotional and environmental stressors differently. Some have a larger capacity for it than others. A shortage in staff results in a heavy workload for nurses. Nurses become fatigued when they are continually required to perform tasks alone that are best performed by a team.
Unfair treatment of workers is perceived when evaluations, promotions, compensation and benefits are not applied fairly (Espeland, 2006). When a nurse’s hard work goes unnoticed and unrewarded, this may result in feelings of hopelessness. Self-conflict is an important stressor that should be mentioned. Nurses tend to be very ambitious and have high expectations for themselves. These standards may lead the nurse to over-extend themselves, resulting in early on- set burnout. Also, a nurse may not be able to satisfactorily meet their own standards of care when they are simply given too much work to handle.
The result of this is will be job dissatisfaction and subsequent compassion fatigue. Nurses who are young when they join the profession are at higher risk. This is because they are less prepared for role ambiguity, heavy workloads, and changing environments (Espeland, 2006). Bearing the suffering of others over a length of time is a big factor in the development of compassion fatigue. A nurse should be able to recognize their own individual risk for compassion fatigue and understand how to guard against it.
To change from a burnout state, we need to change our thought processes and viewpoints about the people and things that may have contributed to our burnout (Espeland, 2006). A nurse needs to actively take control of their situation instead of waiting for their situation to change on its own. By setting realistic goals for themselves and prioritizing important aspects of their life, the nurse can begin overcoming the state of compassion fatigue. It’s important to realize our personal limits. We can strive to perform at our optimal best without attempting to achieve perfection, which is impossible for anyone. We always have control of our own attitude. When we strive to maintain a positive outlook, we minimize feelings of compassion fatigue.
It is inevitable that we will face challenges and adversity on our career path. Utilizing adversity as an opportunity for personal growth as opposed to a barrier is a way to guarantee personal and professional advancement (Espeland, 206). Another change that may need to be made to overcome burnout is a change in practice. Recognizing when it is time for a change is important. Whether it changing units within our hospital or changing disciplines within nursing, these changes provide us with the chance to grow in our profession and gain new skills. This variety contributes to career satisfaction and lessens the risk for burnout.
It is imperative for nurses to know their risk for compassion fatigue, how to guard against it, and how to overcome it if they do find themselves in the state of burnout. Reviewing information about compassion fatigue to valuable to all nurses, as nurses in all disciplines of the profession are at risk for compassion fatigue. Applying these strategies and coping mechanisms will provide the nurse with a more satisfying experience in their nursing career and will assist them to perform at their optimal best.
Bush, N. (2009). Compassion fatigue: are you at risk?. Oncology Nursing Forum, 36(1), 24-28. doi:10.1188/09.ONF.24-28 Espeland, K. (2006). Overcoming burnout: how to revitalize your career. Journal Of Continuing Education In Nursing, 37(4), 178-184.
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