Compassion Fatigue: The Covert Enemy
In the past several years, we have seen increased medical care demand for obvious reasons over which we have no control. These were in addition to the present everyday ins and outs of the continuity of care for patients in inpatient and outpatient settings delivered by our healthcare providers. Furthermore, the demand placed on providers has increased in complexity due to unpredictable changes in the daily routine from work, home life responsibilities, unrealistic expectations from patients and their families, everyday encounters with end-of-life issues, and increased levels of stressors related to cases of loss, trauma, illness, etc.
Regardless, those on the frontlines (nurses, doctors, first responders, licensed therapists, and other healthcare providers) continue their dedicated journey of care and empathy for others. It is our purpose to walk the healing journey with those in our care. Therefore, as healthcare providers, we must be mindful of burnout and, most notably, the next level … compassion fatigue.
As a licensed therapist who has treated and continues to treat those in the healthcare field, I have seen firsthand many who have reached compassion fatigue but were unaware of its impact on their body, mind, mind, and spirit, let alone their relationships within the workplace or home life.
Compassion fatigue sneaks up in a stealth-like manner, blindsiding those it encounters. It is not kind and does not have a preference for whom it drains.
What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue occurs when healthcare providers take on the suffering of patients who have experienced extreme stress or trauma, explains Charles R. Figley, Ph.D., founder of the Traumatology Institute at Tulane University. It is an occupational hazard of “any professionals who use their emotions, their heart,” he says, and it represents the psychological cost of healing others (Figley, 1995). It can coexist with burnout and can be caused by caring for one case or cumulative stress and trauma over time.
While burnout is identified with levels of frustration, apathy, lack of motivation, and passion, compassion fatigue can take weeks to years to be recognizable. It can affect many areas of our well-being, such as but not limited to sleep, emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion, judgment and behavior, isolation, mood regulation, self-esteem, identity, intimacy, and spirituality.
While taking off months or years to recenter and refresh is not ideal, we must look at how we can prevent or manage compassion fatigue to continue providing quality care and living a fulfilled work-life balance.
How to Prevent or Manage Compassion Fatigue
- Keep balance by integrating a routine of self-care.
- Find a work-life balance amid ongoing responsibilities.
- Schedule moments of joy by doing things that please you.
- Plan day trips with family and friends.
- Identify items that spark passion and excitement and do them!
- Balance the soul by acknowledging loss and grief and focusing on what is in your circle of control.
- Schedule time alone to reflect inward and recenter.
- Challenge negative thoughts with positive truths and gratitude.
- Connect with community; inspiration grows with like-minded souls!
- Seek professional help if needed.
Life is a series of thoughts, actions, and lessons that lead us on a journey of despair and hope, challenges of change and growth, eventually landing us in a field we’ve planted along the way. Either our field will be a blooming, colorful palette of creation, or it will be a desolate, cracked ground of wilderness. Whichever it is, we’ve sowed and reaped what we’ve poured into our life’s journey. Let our days not be of that which is in vain but of that which is full of color and the breath of life.
To pour out healing and compassion to others, we must first tend to our vessel by nurturing and replenishing it with kindness.
“Live life when you have it. Life is a splendid gift — there is nothing small about it.”
― Florence Nightingale
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Goodson, MA, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor with an office in Winter Haven, FL. She holds a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. For more information, visit www.pathwaycounselingservice.com.