Compassion Fatigue: The Cost of Caring Too Much

By Kim Cason, RN, Labor and Delivery, Methodist Dallas Medical Center


Most nurses enter this profession with a sense of concern for others. It’s what we were called to do. Finding the right balance between caring too much and caring too little, however, is critical for every nurse’s well-being and long-term job satisfaction.


Nurses are increasingly at risk for compassion fatigue, a term that describes the emotional toll of helping others who experience traumatic stress. Nurses spend long days with patients, many of whom are battling life-threatening diseases. Daily exposure to this stress can lead to compassion fatigue, so it’s important to know how to take care of yourself so you can take care of others.


For me, it helps not to take my work home. I try to give 100 percent while I’m at the hospital, and then leave it when my day is finished so I can have some down time. If we have the same emotional level 24/7, we will run out of fuel.


Here are some additional tips to avoid compassion fatigue:


1. Support each other as clinicians. This is the biggest way to help patients and be good caregivers. Support each other spiritually, emotionally, and physically. At Methodist Dallas Medical Center, for example, we have a tight-knit group. I truly adore the people I work with. We are really there for each other, from simply understanding what it takes to be on the run all day long to supporting each other as we help patients deal with difficult challenges, such as an unexpected diagnosis.



2. Take the time to solve a problem. Lend an ear to your patient. You’ll be amazed how that simple step will help you connect with the patient. In fact, I think you’ll find that listening will help develop trust, and as a result the patient will become easier to work with. Patients will generally return the favor and appreciate what you’re trying to do for them.


3. Stay organized. This helps me as a caregiver and a nurse manager. It’s not just personal organization, but equipment and supplies on the floor should be organized to help facilitate a smooth day. You cannot perform your best if your area is disorganized.


4. Don’t procrastinate. If you have 10 minutes, be productive. You can’t anticipate what’s going to happen throughout the day, but if you work to stay ahead of the curve, unexpected demands won’t be as stressful.


5. Take vacation. I strongly encourage you to schedule vacation time throughout the year to rejuvenate. You’ll be surprised how it will help your feel more balanced and maintain a positive attitude when you are back on the job for 12 hours a day.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the demands of nursing, talk to a colleague or your supervisor. Call the Pastoral Care department for support. Ask for a day off. By taking steps to care for yourself, you’ll be better equipped to take care of your patients.


To learn more about a nursing career at Methodist Health System where the spotlight is on caring for patients and for each other, visit Jobs.MethodistHealthSystem.org.


 


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