Compassion fatigue is the progressive reduction of compassion over time due to extreme caregiver burnout and stress. This can lead to negative experiences for both patients and caregivers. However, many healthcare professionals -- especially nurses -- are conditioned to care for others’ needs before their own.
The first step to prevent or reduce burnout and compassion fatigue in nursing is acknowledging that it exists. It is entirely possible to overcome this distress and learn to thrive in your nursing career again (while simultaneously maintaining your physical and mental health).
Here are a few actionable coping strategies for nurses who are struggling with compassion fatigue.
Put Your Health First
There is a reason that airlines say to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping anyone else. If you don't care about yourself first, it becomes incredibly challenging to serve as a caregiver for others. Always ask yourself: what do I need today? Here are a few suggestions for self-care:
- Get enough sleep before your shifts.
- Take a yoga class (there are many online options).
- Take a walk and focus on your breath.
- Create a meditative space at home and sit with a calming essential oil like lavender or frankincense.
- Eat a healthy breakfast and pack a nutritious lunch every day.
- Close your eyes for 10 minutes during your lunch break. (Apps like Headspace have free five or 10-minute meditations).
- Allow yourself to wind down after your nursing shifts
That said, it’s not always about “self-care.” Sometimes it’s about making sure you’re in the right environment, one where you’re looked after, respected, and appreciated in ways that allow you to do your best in whatever your role. It might not be the nursing profession that’s bringing you down; rather, it might be where you are, what you’re doing, or whom you’re working with.
Write Your Feelings Down
Journaling can be a helpful coping strategy for caregivers who have a hard time verbalizing where their compassion fatigue is coming from. Putting your thoughts on paper can help you articulate your feelings differently than if you were to say them out loud.
Try writing your thoughts down after every shift or before bed to see if you can pinpoint ways to better support yourself at work (i.e. what is it that’s truly taking a toll or challenging you, and what can you -- or others -- do about it).
Enlist Support and Ask for Help
Share your compassion fatigue struggles with a work buddy who can empathize. You can also consider talking to a close friend, work mentor, or therapist who can help you identify the source of your compassion fatigue and find solutions to manage it. Talking it out can help you take control of the issue.
And remember, if you need extra support -- whether physical, mental, or otherwise -- or encouragement, don’t forget to ask those close to you. If you'd like more direct emotional support, there are some suggested resources that have been reviewed and rated here.
Create a Better Work-Life Balance (Or the Nursing Equivalent)
Start thinking about how you can make changes to your career in a way that might create better circumstances for you (new role, work environment, responsibilities, etc).
Maybe it’s time to consider advancing your education or applying for more administrative roles within your workplace. Perhaps taking a per-diem role would help you reclaim more control over your work schedule in relation to your personal life. Do you have a passion outside of work that you have been neglecting? Maybe it’s time to switch gears, even if for only a short amount of time.
Creating a better work-life balance comes down to you prioritizing the things that "fill your cup" and offset the stress of caregiving.
Set Emotional Boundaries
Caregivers such as nurses, doctors, social workers, and therapists are often exposed to traumatic events (and the ensuing psychological effects) on a regular basis. While it is important to remain compassionate and caring, it is also critical to avoid taking on your patient's pain as your own.
Be empathetic to others’ needs, but don’t forget to prioritize your own health and wellness. If you start feeling overwhelmed as a caregiver, change your focus and your energy back to yourself.
Ultimately, nurses naturally serve the needs of others first, but it’s important to prioritize our own health needs, too. What positive coping strategies can you use today to help better manage your compassion fatigue and pave the way for a more satisfying healthcare career?
Looking to make a change and try out a new facility or role, maybe even in a new city? Let us help you!