Compassion fatigue is just as it sounds. Taking care of others, emotionally and/or physically, can cause you great exhaustion. Nurses are at high risk; especially those that work in the emergency room, hospice care, etc. These nurses have to think fast and deal with a lot of emotional distress on a day-to-day basis. Even though this work environment may put you more at risk, this does not mean that it will not affect you at some point. The more compassion you have for something, the more fatigued you may become. Compassion fatigue is just like any other illness and shouldn't be taken lightly. If you realize you have it or are starting to show the signs and symptoms that will be discussed in this article, you should work to find strategies to cope with it and better your health.

To choose nursing as your career path says a lot about what kind of person you are; for many, it says that you are caring and have a big heart. If you chose this career because you share those characteristics, then nine times out of ten your emotions will not just shut off once you leave work. For instance, if you just found out that one of your patients had a disease or illness that treatment can't fix, but the doctor has not been in to speak with them before your shift is over - well, then you have to go home knowing that your patient is terminal. Going home with that knowledge is traumatic and can be very stressful.

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Signs and Symptoms

Emotional components are often the first signs of compassion fatigue. Some nurses have even admitted to feeling detached from the nursing profession or may feel like nursing just isn't for them anymore. They may go home from work and be restless; unable to get a good night of sleep. They may think of nothing but the things they forgot to do at work, while forgetting all the things they were supposed to do at home. It is stressful, and extremely overwhelming. Try to stop this fatigue before it goes on too long, if you can. During this stressful time, some nurses may even attempt to turn their stress to alcohol and drugs. This can be dangerous to co-workers and patients. If you see the signs and suspect that a co-worker may be doing this, follow your line of command and tell someone.

Some nurses may not have any of these symptoms, but they can still have just as much compassion for their workplace and their patients, and even suffer from compassion fatigue. Those that don't display emotional symptoms may express themselves physically via a lack of energy or by getting sick more often.

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Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

You CAN overcome compassion fatigue, even when you feel like you can't. Take time to be aware of your feelings and emotions and take control of them. Know what triggers you and what doesn't. Attentive and calm self-reflection away from work may help you gradually separate occasions and encounters. By inspecting every occasion or interaction, you can become increasingly mindful of your triggers (explicit individuals, circumstances, or occasions) and address each one separately. Regardless of whether you can or can't change your workplace, you can discover internal control by recognizing and acknowledging your feelings.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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