The Year of the Healthy Nurse — Combating Compassion Fatigue
Every year we celebrate National Nurses Week starting on May 6th and ending on May 12th, the birthday of Florence Nightingale. "The Lady with the Lamp" did so much more than just making rounds checking on wounded soldiers at night. The tales of her heroics may be questioned today, but no one can deny that her lamp shed light on what has become a noble and prestigious profession for millions of women and men across the world.
This year the American Nurses Association (ANA) has dedicated 2017 as the “Year of the Healthy Nurse.” Being the son of a nurse, and having grown up watching my mother go from LPN to RN to her most current role as a Care Plan Director, I can tell you that caring for others can take a toll on your own health not only physically, but also emotionally. Many times I’ve seen my mother swell with pride at the recovery of one patient and cry at the loss of another. This heroic field is full of daily ups and downs that can lead to compassion fatigue.
What is compassion fatigue?
When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors begin to surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse are at the top of a long list of symptoms associated with the stress disorder called compassion fatigue. For caregivers, caring too much can hurt. Regularly, these caregivers are people who were taught to care for the needs of others without caring for their own needs. Thus, they do not practice ongoing and authentic self-care in their own lives.
How do you fight compassion fatigue?
First we need to recognize the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Symptoms normally display as stress resulting from the care giving work performed daily. They are often disruptive, depressive, and irritating, but, an awareness of these symptoms and their negative effects on life can help start positive change. Gaining control over life choices will take time and hard work. There must be a commitment to make their life the best it can be.
Normal symptoms present in an individual include:
- Excessive blaming
- Substance abuse
- Compulsive behaviors such as overspending, overeating, gambling, sexual addictions
- Poor self-care (i.e., hygiene, appearance)
- Difficulty concentrating
With insightful information, support and authentic self-care, we can begin to understand the complexity of the emotions we've been juggling. Most people never take the time to understand how their jobs affect them emotionally.
Authentic and sustainable self care begins with:
- Be kind to yourself.
- Clarify your personal boundaries.
- Enhance your awareness.
- Understand that those close to you may not always be there.
- Express your needs verbally.
- Take positive action to change your environment.
How do you continue healing?
Healing compassion fatigue is an inside job. Once you’ve been loyal to a self-care plan, clarified boundaries in both your personal and professional life, and recognize negative behaviors you will begin to reap the benefits. Life will begin to change for the better.
Commit to authentic self-care that includes:
- Health-building activities such as exercise.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Just say no.
- Develop a support system of people who care
- Become proactive as opposed to reactive
- Reserving your energy and choose your battles.
- Live a balanced life: sing, dance, sit with silence
Does this apply only to professional caregivers?
No, everyone who acts as a caregiver for a family member or a friend must stay very aware of compassion fatigue and theeffects it can have on them. If you’d like to see just how you rate on stress level and how susceptible you may be to stress-related illness click here for a downloadable stress test.
If you’d like more resources to educate yourself on compassion fatigue, visit the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project's resource page.
Most of all remember to be kind to yourself and don’t forget that it’s good to just sing, dance, and sometimes, just sit and enjoy the silence.
American Nursing Association: http://www.nursingworld.org/
Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project: http://www.compassionfatigue.org/