The nursing profession is a complex field that can challenge you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. People who go into the field of nursing have daily interacts with patients’ and families in need of medical help and guidance. Nurses face numerous challenges on a daily basis and must be able to handle not only their patients’ issues, but remain strong and healthy to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout. Compassion fatigue is defined as emotional, spiritual, and physical exhaustion resulting from “witnessing and absorbing the problems and suffering of others” (Wisniewski, 2013). Compassion fatigue can lead to burnout with one’s professional career and affect home life. Caregivers can also be affected by compassion fatigue and burnout from the roles that they play with their loved ones. It is vital to be able to identify the warning signs of compassion fatigue and burnout. This is a battle that can be “fought with a commitment to personal health and well-being” (Chapman, 2007).
Health care professionals and caregivers need to be able to find a balance and maintain health in their own spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional lives to assist patient’s to optimal care. Strategies on stress management, healthy lifestyle choices, and resources available will be discussed to help prevent and manage these issues. “Nurses are the backbone of the medical system and act as the first line of patient medical care” (Chen et al., 2009). Dealing and coping with stress is vital for nurses to maintain to provide adequate care. Compassion fatigue is a feeling of hopelessness and a loss in the sense of meaning in one’s life. Symptoms can be “strong feelings of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, being jumpy or easily startled, irritability, difficulty sleeping, excessive emotional numbing, and intrusive images of another’s traumatic material” (Portnoy, 2011). These symptoms need to be recognized to receive help or they can progress to long-term effects and complications. There are five concepts of compassion fatigue that need to be addressed to help with prevention and burnout.
The first concept is cognitive; symptoms can be apathy, disorientation, trouble concentration, and harshness. The second concept is emotional; signs can be anxiety, fear, helplessness, feelings of powerlessness, depression, having bad dreams, and shock. The third concept is behavioral which can be lack of sleep, moody, change in appetite, withdrawn, and repeatedly having bad dreams. The fourth concept is spiritual. This area can lead the individual to question their role in life and their profession, feelings of being lost, and questioning faith and personal beliefs. The last concept is somatic, meaning affecting one’s voluntary nervous system. This can cause rapid heartbeats, trouble breathing, headaches, aches and pains, trouble staying or falling asleep, and sweating (Portnoy, 2011). There are numerous factors that can lead up to and cause compassion fatigue. Triggers can be issues with management such as nursing acuity, patient to nurse ratios, overworked nurses, personal issues, lack of support from coworkers or bosses, and loss of the feeling that the nurse is making a difference.
To combat these factors in nurses and other employees in health care, managers and organizations need to be aware of this dynamic issue and offer help (Portnoy, 2011). Creating an open environment along with education and training on how to deal with these complex issues is the first step to addressing compassion fatigue within the workplace. Group meetings within the workplace will offer the nurses a chance to share their thoughts and feelings, realizing that they are not alone. Building bonds with coworkers and sharing patient experiences will help to encourage positive healthy habits. Self-care is vital for nurses to maintain to keep life in balance and to adequately take proper care of our patients. Everybody has stress, learning how to deal with it is the key to happiness and a healthy well-being. Nurses are constantly educating our patient’s on lifestyle changes needed to maintain health such as a proper diet, exercise, and a strong support system.
We in turn need to practice what we preach and maintain our health to be at our best to help our patients achieve their best. Burnout and compassion fatigue are sometimes talked about as one, but there are differences. Burnout is “state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress” (Preventing Burnout, n.d.). Signs of burnout can be depression or detachment, emotions are rigid, loss of hope and motivation, and a feeling of not worthy of living. Burnout can be caused by lifestyles or work-related issues. Working in an environment that you feel like you have no control or lack of resources can lead to burnout.
Self-care is needed to maintain positive outlets to express one’s stress to avoid burnout in one’s personal life. There are physical, emotional, and behavioral signs of burnout. Physical signs are feelings of being tired all the time, being sick a lot, change in sleeping habits, body aches, and frequent headaches. Emotional signs can be loss of motivation, feelings of helplessness, feelings of detachment, sense of doubt, and an increased negative outlook in life. Behavioral signs can be isolation from others, avoidance of responsibilities, drug or alcohol abuse, missing work, and anger directed at others (Preventing Burnout, n.d.).
There are several ways to help prevent burnout. Learning how to manage stress and adopting a positive healthy eating, sleeping, and exercising habits are good examples to start with. It is important to know when you need help and that it is available. Burnout can lead to compassion fatigue within your professional career. Nurses who are tired, overworked, and stress out over time without help can suffer from burnout and in turn fall into compassion fatigue. Nurses need compassion to help guide patients in their medical situations, if the nurse is stressed out and needing help herself then how can she guide the patient? Burnout can be healed, addressing the issues and finding “your balance by reassessing priorities, making time for yourself, and seeking support” (Preventing Burnout, n.d.). There is a three “R” approach when dealing with burnout; recognize, reverse, and resilience.
Recognition of burnout, reversal of the damage caused from stress, and building resilience to deal with the stress by taking care of one’s emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. Identification is one step into addressing compassion fatigue and burnout. One can recover from burnout. There are three strategies that one should remain mindful of, slow down, get support, and reevaluate your goals and priorities (Preventing Burnout, n.d.). When dealing with job burnout there are a few options that you can do to improve the circumstances. Taking time off, asking for a new assignment, speaking with management about issues, and clarifying your job duties are a few suggestions to start with. Caregiver burnout can happen to anyone at any given time. The roles of caregivers are equally important like that of nursing.
Caregivers are responsible for the direct care of a loved one and can experience compassion fatigue as well as burnout. Being involved with a loved one’s care can cause physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual distress. The health of the caregivers is important for the success of the one who is receiving the care. Promoting policies and interventions that will help the caregivers to avoid emotional exhaustion is the goal. Caregivers need to remain aware of their needs and beliefs and know when to ask for help should they need it. Education is the start to helping patients, families, and caregivers; talking about compassion fatigue and burnout allows people to see that they are not alone and that help is available. There are numerous resources available to assist those seeking help such as The Gift from Within organization that specializes in helping people deal with trauma and stress.
There is also a Compassion Fatigue organization that aims at educating people on how important self-care is and how vital it is to know the signs and symptoms (Portnoy, 2011). In conclusion, compassion fatigue is the loss of self and burnout is the emotional exhaustion that one can feel. Nurses and health care professionals are at higher risks of having these issues come up; however caregivers can suffer from these issues just as easily. The goal to combating these topics is to bring awareness to them and to continue educating people on the ways to handle them.
Sometimes asking for help is hard, but it is the first step in the right direction to becoming a healthy well-being who can handle stress. Seeking guidance from professionals will benefit the person in distress as well as their families. To be emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually sound one must take care of themselves in all aspects of life. One must have compassionate caring, empathic boundaries, self-awareness, spirituality and hope, and self-forgiveness to succeed in life (Bush, 2009).
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