Compassion fatigue is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion resulting from prolonged exposure to trauma or traumatized individuals. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), compassion fatigue happens as a result of the depletion of the ability to cope with one’s everyday environment. Professionals who are regularly exposed to trauma or high-stress environments, like those in healthcare are likely more susceptible to developing compassion fatigue.
Compassion is a precious commodity, especially in healthcare. Many students become nurses and OTAs because they want to make more than a living — they want to make a difference. A career in healthcare is meaningful work, but it can be emotionally demanding too. If the desire to help others and impact lives was one of the reasons you entered the field, compassion is often the source of energy that keeps you going. All healthcare workers must preserve their capacity for empathy, so it’s important to guard yourself against compassion fatigue when times get tough.
Related Resource: Empathy in Nursing: How to Provide Empathetic Care
Compassion fatigue can be described as a type of psychological deterioration, affecting your ability to do your work or complete daily activities. However, this type of fatigue can present itself physically, psychologically, and behaviorally and can include:
Do you think you may be experiencing compassion fatigue? This free, online compassion fatigue test will help you determine if you’re suffering from caregiver burnout.
Compassion fatigue doesn’t hit all at once. Instead, it is a slow phenomenon, broken down into four stages.
You are enthusiastic, involved, excited about work, and are committed to making a difference. You go the extra mile, putting in extra hours and volunteering to help, without being asked or ordered.
Feelings of enthusiasm start to wane, followed by avoiding work responsibilities. While still performing in your care-taking role, you may avoid contact with patients and their families, make small mistakes, cut corners, and occasionally lose concentration and focus.
Your enthusiasm for your work falls, exhaustion is more frequent, and the line between personal life and care-taking responsibilities blurs. The lack of clear boundaries results in irritability towards your patients. Your team, family, and friends notice your enthusiasm is gone and you are much more withdrawn.
While distancing yourself from those you are taking care of, you may also feel despondent and angry, and project this onto coworkers, viewing them as incompetent. Your irritability slides into disdain, hostility, suspicion, and blaming your patients. You exhibit hopelessness and even outright anger.
The key to dealing with compassion fatigue from a personal standpoint is to provide yourself with improved self-care. Improving self-care can be difficult for nurses, as they are accustomed to constantly putting others’ needs before their own. However, taking extra time for yourself is essential to keeping compassion fatigue to a minimum.
Related Resource: 50 Self-Care Ideas for Nurses to Recharge
There are many ways to prevent or ease the effects of compassion fatigue. Self care, creating a routine, and building work relationships are some of the ways you can avoid fatiguing. Here are other ways to prevent or ease the effects of compassion fatigue include:
While they might compassion fatigue vs burnout sound interchangeable, compassion fatigue and burnout are different problems.
Compassion fatigue refers to the negative emotions that individuals feel from helping others at work. The fatigue comes from helping others—you want to keep helping, but you are overwhelmed from being exposed to the trauma of others. It is also known as secondary trauma, referencing the way that other people’s trauma can become your own.
Burnout is a psychological term referring to a general exhaustion and lack of interest or motivation regarding one’s work. It typically emerges over time as a response to prolonged stress and can occur in any profession.
Related Resource: How to Combat Nurse Burnout