Compassion Fatigue Essay

The idea of caring for others is the motivating reason that draws most people into nursing. The concept of being a supportive part of a person’s health care needs is exactly the cause of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue can hit the best of nurses. Nurses who are highly driven and detail oriented are at a higher risk for developing compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue was a term first applied in 1992; it is described as a syndrome that occurs in nurses when caring for a patient facing life-altering or life-threatening changes resulting from an illness.

Compassion fatigue is prevalent among nurses today, due to increasing patient loads, as a result of nurse shortages and hospital cut backs. Compassion fatigue in nursing should not be ignored. There are classic warning signs that someone might be experiencing compassion fatigue. Recognizing the signs of compassion fatigue and following the necessary steps to prevent and treat it can provide one with the tools needed to make their nursing career rewarding. Warning signs of five concepts of compassion fatigue

An essential first step in developing a prevention plan is to recognize the warning signs of compassion fatigue. Learning to become aware of the problem is the first step in prevention. Compassion fatigue cuts you off from the people that need you the most. Warning signs of compassion fatigue can include cognitive, emotional, behavioral, spiritual, and somatic symptoms (Portnoy, D. 2011). Cognitive

Nature of the Problems and their Causes

Cognitive behavior is the ability to judge and reason effectively and having a perception of your surroundings. Cognitive symptoms can include a decreased sense of personal satisfaction and personal accomplishments. A feeling of indifference or apathetic with ones patients is another sign. A sense of disorientation with lowered levels of concentration can also be seen during this phase. Emotional

Nature of the Problems and their Causes

Our emotions are a valuable source upon which we can rely on. Our emotions help us make decisions, and communicate with our patients. When experiencing compassion fatigue our emotional health suffers. Emotional signs that one might be experiencing compassion fatigue could include powerlessness, anxiety, guilt, anger, numbness, fear, helplessness, sadness, depression, shock, blunted or enhanced affect (Portnoy, D., 2011). Behavioral

Nature of the Problems and their Causes

Behavior is simply the way we react to a given situation. In regards to nursing, behavior is the skills and ability to care for our patients. Behavioral symptoms of compassion fatigue usually manifest in behaviors that are out of the ordinary for the person. Some examples might include irritability, being withdrawn from family, friends and co-workers, moody, appetite changes, unable to get adequate sleep, and isolating one’s self (Portnoy, D., 2011). Spiritual

Nature of the Problems and their Causes

Spirituality can be described as a person’s way of being, thinking, choosing, and acting in the world in light of that person’s ultimate values(Barlow, 2006). Spiritual compassion fatigue can cause a person to question the meaning of life, or experience feelings of hopelessness. They might also question their relationship with God, or their religious belief system. Often times they will stop attending the church that they once faithfully attended. Somatic

Nature of the Problems and their Causes

The somatic system deals with our bodies. The somatic system is responsible for nearly all voluntary muscle movement as well as for processing sensory information. When compassion fatigue affects our somatic system we can experience physical symptoms such as, sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing difficulties, aches and pains. Frequent headaches and colds can also develop

during this phase (Portnoy, D., 2011).

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Physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the caregiver

Examining the progression of compassion fatigue and its symptoms, one thing is important to understand, compassion fatigue can have a major impact on a nurses professional career. It is easy to see that some of the symptoms can impair the ability of the nurse to provide quality nursing care to their patients. The best defense against compassion fatigue is for healthcare workers to take a proactive approach to their physical, emotional, and spiritual care. Physical needs of Caregiver

The first step in the providing for the needs of caregiver is for the caregiver to recognize the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Healthcare workers should develop an improved sense of self-care. Healthcare workers, nurses in general spend their professional life taking care of others. Nurses should take care of their selves first. They need to develop a healthier lifestyle, by getting regular sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly.

Emotional needs of Caregiver

Nurses who are young, idealistic, and highly motivated tend to suffer from compassion fatigue at a higher risk (Bush, N., 2009). Talking to friends, peers, and family to gain ideas on how to better balance your job responsibilities with your personal life is one area of focus for the healthcare worker. Learning to set boundaries in the early stages of your career can be a valuable tool.

Recognizing your limitations is important; you cannot stop all the suffering and pain of all your patients. Learning that you can be there to help your patients without needing to fix everything can lessen the emotional toll that dealing with difficult situations presents. Spiritual needs of Caregiver

Caregivers need to prepare their minds, bodies, souls, and spirits to become resilient in working with patient at intense levels (Bush, N., 2009). Caregivers need to develop skills of empathy when dealing with patients. A positive belief system and attitude can prevent feelings of hopelessness. Caregivers should recharge their selves by making a list of enjoyable things that they find pleasure in. Remembering how inspired and motived they felt during those early days after graduation can help to refocus their thoughts in a more positive manner. Coping strategies and resources

Applying a systemic approach to the prevention of compassion fatigue can provide the healthcare worker with valuable tools in the prevention of compassion fatigue. Awareness of what situations contribute to your stress level, what events cause an increase in your stress. Develop a health balance in your life. Provide yourself the opportunity to enjoy your favorite activities on regular bases. Learn to connect with friends, co-workers, and family to develop a positive support system in order to talk out your stress by sharing your thoughts and reactions to certain situations. Conclusion

Realizing that you have control over how you manage your life. Being compassionate is not a character flaw; on the contrary, it is a great gift. The healthcare profession is a very demanding career. The ability to serve others is one of the highest callings that a person can have, but in order to do this effectively you must first take care of yourself.

Understanding the key symptoms of compassion fatigue will allow for caregivers to put into place the necessary tools in order to prevent compassion fatigue. Engaging in self-care strategies will be beneficial for healthcare workers in order to handle to day to day stressors of their profession. References

barlow828. (Nov 28, ’11). Spirituality in Nursing. Retrieved Sunday, Sep 01, 2013, from

Bush, N. (2009). Compassion fatigue: are you at risk?. Oncology Nursing Forum, 36(1), 24-28. doi:10.1188/09.ONF.24-28

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Gilmore, C. (2012). Compassion fatigue — what it is and how to avoid it. Kai Tiaki Nursing New

Zealand, 18(5), 32.

Portnoy, D. (2011). Burnout and Compassion Fatigue: Watch for the Signs. Health Progress. Retrieved from

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Compassion Fatigue Essay

― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

The health care industry is made up of nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals who are dedicated to the care and healing of others. The modern medical field is a very fast-paced, stressful, and demanding environment. Often, the constant stress and demands of the job can adversely affect the healthcare provider. Not surprisingly, those who go into the healthcare industry, do so because they have a sincere desire to make a difference in people’s lives and provide care for a patient’s spiritual, mental, and physical needs.

However, this type of career requires energy and dedication way beyond that of other comparable careers. “Compassion fatigue” is a common side-effect. “Compassion fatigue” can be defined as, “the gradual decline of compassion over time as a result of caregivers being exposed to events that have traumatized their patients (Cherry 497).” In fact, the damage that results from this condition has been linked to more sick days, high turnover rates, and decreased productivity. If left untreated, this condition can adversely affect patient safety, so it is vital that hospitals and healthcare providers are able to accurately recognize compassion fatigue and treat it early. (Landro, L. 2012)

Compassion is an important and critical gift necessary for the care of others. Compassion can be defined as, “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it” (Merriam-Webster 2013). No one is immune to compassion fatigue. In fact, anyone caring for another person can suffer from it. However, compassion fatigue is more prevalent in the health care industry due to the extenuating nature of the work. The reality is that healthcare providers have an exhausting array of job duties that entail lengthy shifts, selfless service, endless dedication, love, and compassion. Due to the extreme demands, medical professionals often neglect their own personal needs for the sake of others. Every single day, healthcare professionals come face to face with disease, illness, decline in health, and death. Over time, it can be incredibly traumatizing.

“Compassion is a verb.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

If not prevented or left untreated, “compassion fatigue” can negatively affect a caregiver emotionally, spiritually, cognitively, physically and behaviorally. Warning signs can manifest themselves in a variety of ways.

The emotional effects of compassion fatigue can include mood disturbances, increased apathy, lassitude, irritability, discontentment, hopelessness, aggressiveness, hostility, numbness, and helplessness. (Eagan, T. 2012) Other signs may include oversensitivity, restlessness, depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse. (Lombardo, B., Eyre, C., 2011)

The spiritual effects of compassion fatigue may often be harder to pinpoint. Warning signs may include subtle things such as starting to question one’s purpose in life, an increasing sense of disbelief or an increasing sense of aimlessness. (Ginter, C. 2010). The caregiver may start to question their personal religious beliefs, become increasingly skeptical and even question life’s meaning. (Portnoy, D. 2011)

The cognitive effects of compassion fatigue can be easier to identify. It’s easy to observe when someone is having difficulty concentrating or is unable to focus on tasks and duties that are critical to the job. The work ethic and performance of the healthcare provider may also be affected, resulting in increased absences, low morale, decreased motivation, and overall negativity in the workplace. This not only affects the healthcare provider, but also their co-workers and patients.

The physical effects of compassion fatigue can include, but are not limited to headaches, chronic pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and self neglect (poor diet, lack of exercise, poor hygiene). (Eagan, T. 2012) Other physical effects can include gastrointestinal complaints, hypertension, (Pfifferling, J., Gilley, K. 2000) muscle tension and cardiac symptoms (chest pain, tachycardia, and palpitations. (Lombardo, B., Eyre, C., 2011) Behavioral changes can include “isolating”, withdrawing, extreme hyper-vigilance, (Portnoy, D. 2011) apathy or extreme attention to work, avoiding, faking interest, blaming, restlessness, and even inappropriate humor (Ginter, C. 2010).

“I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.”

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― Mother Teresa, A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations

Although compassion fatigue can be an easy problem to identify, the specific causes of this condition are often varied and harder to pinpoint. The stressful nature of a healthcare career can certainly create “the perfect storm”. Overall, health care professionals can feel stressed about things like control over workload, lack of recognition or appreciation of doing a good job. Lifestyle changes can also cause compassion fatigue. If the person is working too much without taking time off to relax, taking on too much responsibility with no help from others, not getting enough sleep, or not having a supportive relationship in their personal life, it becomes easier for compassion fatigue to develop.

People with certain personality traits (pessimistic, perfectionist, those who do not delegate, and type A, and overachievers) are particularly predisposed to experiencing compassion fatigue or burnout. The constant exposure to negative situations, stress, loss, and giving more than receiving, in addition to having a more intense personality, can increase the risk of developing compassion fatigue. (Frandsen, B. 2010) “Compassion fatigue is caused by empathy. It is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people” (Portnoy, D. 2011). In the medical field, nurses, doctors, and other health care providers often witness pain, suffering and death first-hand. They play numerous roles with less time, resources and support. The increased demands and stress along with the constant exposure to negative and traumatic events can build up over time and put anyone at risk for compassion fatigue.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

A caregiver is not so different from a patient. Both caregiver and patient have physical, spiritual, and emotional needs that must be met. When their own needs are neglected, caregivers are unable to properly care for their patients. In short, they’re hurting themselves as well as the patients. Maintaining regular exercise, staying hydrated, staying productive, eating healthy and taking time to rest and relax are critical ways to reduce the chances of developing compassion fatigue.

Although spiritual beliefs may be different from person to person, it is vital to nourish and grow in one’s faith. Those needs may be different depending on beliefs and may include going to church on a regular basis, taking the time to pray or meditate, speaking with a church leader, reading scriptures, or having time alone to reflect and think. There are many different ways a caregiver can begin to focus on their spiritual health. ( 2013)

Emotional needs are another important area that should be nurtured. Emotional needs are just as important as physical and spiritual needs. A caregiver may need time to mentally unwind, have peace and quiet, laugh and cry, and “tune in” to their personal experiences and emotions. Taking short breaks to renew emotional energy and doing things that bring you joy and happiness are ways to increase and improve emotional health. ( 2013) By making sure the needs of the caregiver are met, the caregiver, patients, and even the company will benefit from it.

There are many ways to cope with compassion fatigue. Perhaps the most important way of addressing the needs of the caregiver is to acknowledge compassion fatigue when necessary and take aggressive steps to assist caregivers in finding supportive coping strategies. Some coping strategies according to Varner, J. (2004) include: asking for assistance and support from peers or other support groups, staying positive, smiling and talking to peers, using humor to decrease anxiety and tension, giving comfort through physical contact, taking breaks with peers and not alone, using problem solving tools, generating solutions, and focusing specifically on tasks at hand.

Learning how to balance work and life essentially means learning how to invest the time and energy into taking care of oneself in order to effectively take care of others. Putting together a plan of self-care (journaling, yoga, meditation, exercise, proper diet, doing things that you find pleasure in, and doing non work related activities) as well as educating yourself and others on communication skills is vital in preventing compassion fatigue. Employers can aid in combating compassion fatigue by offering on-site counseling, support groups, de-briefing sessions, and bereavement interventions (Boyle, D., 2011) that all work together to give employees the tools and skills needed for prevention.

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Early recognition of compassion fatigue is vital to anyone in a caring profession. Maintaining and constantly improving self-care and creating optimal wellness are crucial in order to properly care for others. .”Caregivers need to be able to deliver excellence without compromising their well-being”(Portnoy, D. 2011). Caregivers often neglect their own personal needs for the sake of others and need to realize the importance of focusing on their own needs first. By taking care of their own needs and ensuring they have a life that entails supportive relationships, health care providers will be able to successfully care for their patients long-term.

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