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I first realized that I was experiencing compassion fatigue as a nurse after only two years in the profession.
That’s correct. After only TWO YEARS, I was already feeling overstressed, exhausted, and cynical about my career.
When my mind finally wrapped itself around this understanding, I thought I’ve barely graduated with my BSN, and I’m ALREADY burned out? How am I going to continue in the nursing profession for an entire career?
I was frustrated, confused, and, to be honest, a little heartbroken. I was passionate about helping others, and I did enjoy the mental stimulation that I got as a nurse. But I couldn’t figure out how there were nurses on our unit who had been doing the same thing for the last 5, 10 or even 20 years. Didn’t they feel the same way?
Lately, I have spoken with a lot of nurses about their experiences with compassion fatigue. The truth of the matter is that most, if not all, nurses feel spent and exhausted at some point throughout their careers.
What is compassion fatigue in nursing?
Simply put, compassion fatigue is the gradual lessening of compassion over time due to extreme caregiver stress and overwork. Compassion fatigue in nursing is also almost always tied to the chronic stress that comes with working 12-hour shifts, which can be very physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, even on a good day.
Unfortunately, compassion fatigue is prevalent in the nursing profession. But with awareness and the willingness to make a change, it is possible to overcome this chronic, stressful state and learn to thrive within your nursing career again.
Here are seven tips to help deal with compassion fatigue in nursing:
1. Find a better work-life balance
Are you rotating days and nights? Constantly working overtime? Or maybe just working too many hours per week?
That may work for a while, but it is not a very good long term plan. Everyone needs a break, especially nurses.
Consider taking a vacation (or stay-cation) and plan a few solid days of “me” time. A little TLC can go a long way. You simply can’t continue to take good care of others before taking care of yourself first.
Becoming a per diem nurse helped me find a better work-life balance. What can you do to help balance your life?
2. Make your health the #1 priority
One of the best things a nurse can do to help prevent nurse burnout is to take good care of themselves. Often this notion is counter-intuitive to nurses because the nature of their job is to put others’ needs in front of their own continually. Ask yourself, what do I need to be healthy? Here are a few suggestions:
- Take a yoga class or join a gym.
- Make sure you plan for your 12-hour shifts, so you have healthy snacks while you are at work.
- Get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep before a shift.
- Try meditation or just sit alone with your eyes closed for 10 minutes during your lunch break.
- Create a calming environment (at work or home) with a stress-relieving essential oil such as Lavender.
3. Find the “why” in your compassion fatigue
What is it that is causing you to feel compassion fatigue? Try writing your thoughts down at the end of a few shifts to help figure out what is overwhelming you.
Is there a pattern? Perhaps you need to plan your shifts differently. Are there a few personalities in your workplace that you are not jiving with?
Or, maybe you just are not inspired by your chosen specialty. Permit yourself to be brutally honest. If a change is what you need, then make a change.
Additional recommended reading:
- Nurse Burnout Symptoms To Watch Out For
- How Fear Is Inspiring My Nursing Career
- Simple Stress Management For Nurses
4. Challenge yourself
Are you under-challenged at work? There are so many ways to challenge yourself as a nurse:
- Become a certified nurse in your specialty (or a completely new specialty!)
- Take on a charge nurse role.
- Be a preceptor to novice nurses in your unit.
- Take on additional committee roles.
- Attend a nurse conference.
- Change your nursing specialty.
- Consider advancing your nursing degree.
5. Surround yourself with positive support
Compassion fatigue and nurse burnout are so common among nurses. Left unchecked, they can lead to mistakes, unhappiness, or even depression.
Share your nursing compassion fatigue struggles with a close comrade from work who can empathize with your effort. If that doesn’t help, consider talking to a trusted mentor, a therapist, or find a career coach that can help you work your way out of nurse burnout.
Nurses are self-giving creatures by nature, but we must give to our own needs as well. Crawl out of your shell and start talking it out.
6. Find an outlet
What do you do on your days off that may you happy? If you don’t have a stress-relieving outlet, then its time to find one.
Is your inner artist craving a creative outlet, such as painting, designing, or even scrapbooking? Does a day on the golf course or an afternoon on the tennis court bring you joy? Maybe you have been so busy that you have forgotten how wonderfully distracting it can be to become enveloped into an activity that you love to do.
Research has shown that finding a joyful outlet can enhance your mood, increase energy, lower stress levels, and even make your immune system stronger. Find out what makes you happy outside of the nursing profession.
7. Consider new options
Do don’t have to stay in the same place throughout your entire career. If fact, one of the greatest benefits of becoming a nurse is that there are so many types of nursing careers out there.
Have an honest discussion with yourself about your career. Are you a med/Surg nurse who has always dreamed of working in the ICU? Or maybe you are an ER nurse with interest in becoming a flight nurse. A change in specialty might be what you need to tackle your compassion fatigue as a nurse.
On another note, nurses don’t have to work in a hospital. Perhaps working in a dermatology office or as a home healthcare nurse would be a better fit. There are so many nursing careers to choose from. The sky is the limit. Find your passion!
Additional recommended reading: