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Compassion Fatigue in Nursing

By Mary Ruff-King

Compassion fatigue in nursing is prevalent due to the ever increasing patient loads caused by managed care, the nursing shortage, and administrators who are required to maintain budgets which may not be in the best interest of patients or hospital personnel.

The classical warning signs of compassion fatigue are:

  • Decreased sense of personal satisfaction and professional accomplishments
  • Sense of inadequacy and generalized anger
  • Free floating anxiety, irritability, and restlessness
  • Depression and low self-esteem
  • Loss of enjoyment, both at work and at home
  • A sense of hopelessness and loss of control over one's destiny
  • Denial of negative feelings
  • Working harder and longer to compensate for negative feelings
  • Physical complaints such as migraine headaches, GI distress, exhaustion.
  • Abuse of food, and/or drugs, and/or alcohol
  • Decreased empathy and compassion
  • Disruption in sleep cycle and mood swings.

Compassion fatigue in nursing should not be ignored. Nurses spend their professional lives taking care of others. The best defense against this threat to your personal and professional health is to take proactive measures:

Take care of yourself first. Adopt a healthier lifestyle. Eat properly. It is tempting to grab a quick bite of pizza or other comfort foods that may be available at work; however, that is not in your best interest in the long run. Eat plenty of healthy foods that will nourish your body and stabilize your moods. Meet with a nutritionist who can help you plan what you should be eating and avoiding.

Take time to reflect on what you can do to create balance in your life. Talk to a trusted friend, a co-worker, your spouse. Express your needs, fears, wants, and desires. Get help to structure a plan that will help you gain balance in your life. It is not a sign of weakness to get the help you need to maintain happiness in your life!

Learn how to set boundaries and how to say "No." It can be done in a positive way. "Ordinarily I would be very happy to help out, but I feel it would compromise my ability to care for my patients as well as my well-being, so I’ll have to decline." Doing this will help you feel empowered once again and allow you to get back the control over your life that you feel you have lost.

Spend time alone and recharge yourself on a daily basis. What hobbies do you enjoy? Spend at least one hour per day doing something that has brought you joy in the past. Take long walks, soak in a hot tub, exercise daily, visit friends and family. Get out of your rut, your regular routine.

Just realize that you have control over how you manage your life. Compassion fatigue in nursing is not a character flaw. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nursing is a very demanding profession. Serving others is the highest calling, but in order to do that you must first take care of yourself by not becoming a victim of compassion fatigue.

Mary Ruff-King is an author who has worked in the medical field for many years. Nursing is a field which is wide open for opportunity and advancement. For further information on the nursing field and related articles/information, about please visit Nursing Mastery Center.

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