How to Cope with Compassion Fatigue

Nurses often get so attached to their patients that they can’t stop thinking of them, sometimes to the point that they can’t sleep at night. Nursing has long attracted the most compassionate of people so it is normal that the suffering, pain, and fear of their patients gets to the nurses on a personal level. Unfortunately, getting too involved can lead to compassion fatigue, thought of as secondary post-traumatic stress. This can quickly lead to burn out and loss of mental energy.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

When you are suffering from compassion fatigue, you may notice that your job performance suffers and you make more mistakes. You may also be constantly preoccupied with your patients’ problems and other aspects of your job. You could be having trouble sleeping and feel tired all the time. Finally, you may find yourself feeling less efficient, less energetic, and less satisfied in general.

If you find that you are more sensitive than is typical for you, your colleagues are becoming frustrated with you, or your patients are too clingy and familiar, you are probably suffering from compassion fatigue and pending burnout.

How to Cope

If you are suffering from high levels of job stress and related compassion fatigue, there are steps you can take to get yourself and your career back on track. Try these coping strategies to reclaim your life:

  • Exercise – While your compassion fatigue may make you feel too tired to exercise, it is important to work out for at least 30 minutes every day. Even if you just go for a brisk walk, exercise will make you more relaxed, happier, and more productive.
  • Socialize – When people are under stress, they tend to stop doing the very things that will make them feel better. Take the time to relax and unwind with family, friends, or alone. Having a family dinner, a girls’ night out, or just some quiet meditation can revitalize your spirit and quiet your mind. Surround yourself with supportive people and bask in their love.
  • Laugh – Even if your sense of humor is twisted, it is still a sense of humor. Take the time to joke and laugh with coworkers, friends, and family. Laughter is a great stress reliever.
  • Separate – Set clear limits between your work and home. Although it can be difficult to do, leave your work at work and focus on your family and friends when you are home. You are a nurse, but you are also a human. Pay equal attention to both aspects of your life.
  • Talk – Join social and professional organizations that will allow you to discuss your problems and feelings with other nurses who are experiencing the same things.

While you are sure to become attached to certain patients, remember that you are a professional above all. Provide your patients with the kindness and care they need while keeping your emotional distance. This will serve the dual purpose of making you a more effective nurse and of helping you to stay healthy so you can continue to provide this vital care for many years to come.