Sometimes caring hurts, but you wouldn’t have become a nurse in the first place if you didn’t possess a caring nature. Still, seeing patients day after day — some whose health does not improve and some who are cantankerous even when you’re there to help — can have an impact not only on your frame of mind, but on your health, too. It’s important you recognize “compassion fatigue” when it strikes and work on combating it, so you can continue to do your job without burning out.
Further Your Career
Remember why you got into the field in the first place: not just to care for those in need, but for a stable career with potential for advancement. Focus on a personal goal so less of your energy is devoted to worrying about your patients even after you’re off work. Earn a greater salary with a higher degree, like a Master of Science in Nursing.
Having that goal to work toward every day will give you better direction at work. You’ll learn more effective coping techniques for compassion fatigue, and you’ll remind yourself you’re not going to be stuck at the same place doing the same thing forever. You’ll view your work as a learning experience for a more advanced career.
It’s easier said than done, but separate yourself from the patient more. While you certainly don’t want to lose your caring nature and approach a patient and her family coldly, being too close to a patient will get you too emotionally invested to perform your job properly — and that’s bad for the patient as well as you. Remember that each patient is one of many under your charge, and you’re one of many medical professionals there to treat him. You’re a part of a team, so don’t take the emotional burden onto your shoulders alone.
Exercise is beneficial for anyone in any profession, but it’s a must for high-energy professions such as nursing. Build your stamina through regular exercise. Get out of the hospital or clinic while on break and take a walk around the block. Jog with friends and family after work. Swing by a gym on your way home. Do whatever you can to incorporate more physical activity into your day to refresh your mind and your body.
Set Aside Personal Time
In a demanding profession such as nursing, you’re lucky to have as much as 10 minutes to yourself throughout the day, especially if you have a demanding home life. However, it’s crucial you set aside personal time every day. Ideally, you’ll give yourself as much as half an hour, but if you can only find 10 minutes, make the most of those 10 minutes. Don’t collapse into a chair and veg out aimlessly in front of the TV. Schedule a fulfilling activity, and ask friends and family to leave you be for a short while. You may:
- Take a bath
- Read a book
- Play a game
- Do a crossword puzzle
- Play with a pet
- Work in a garden
There’s no limit to the activities you can do during your personal time as long as the activity makes you happy and helps you shut out the worry about your patients.
If small adjustments to the way you approach your daily schedule aren’t helping, it’s all right to ask for professional help. Trained therapists and counselors see medical professionals burdened with compassion fatigue and help them work through their issues via coping techniques. Alternatively or in addition to one-on-one counseling, visit a support group for caregivers that may include both medical professionals and family members of people who need of special care.
As the American Nurses Association explains, compassion fatigue is different from burnout, as the nurse feels stresses as a result of being personally invested in the patients’ recovery more than being dissatisfied with work hours or conditions. Still, it’s clear nurses face a number of challenges not present in many other fields that could impact their health. It’s essential, both for your health and the health of your patients, you step back and take care of yourself.
About the Author: April Eslinger is a registered nurse with over 10 years’ experience in the field.