What Is Compassion Fatigue In Healthcare
Compassion fatigue is a misunderstood problem. Too often, it is confused with burnout, which can misinterpret the causes of the issue and muddle the conversation about how to get out from under it. Lets set the record straight before going any further: Compassion fatigue is best described as the cost of caring. It is the mental and emotional distress that can follow when healthcare professionals connect and empathize with patients. Burnout, on the other hand, deals squarely with work environment and the factors that tie into it, such as job satisfaction and interactions with co-workers.
Though experience with compassion fatigue is not limited to health care workers who have been affected by physician shortages, it can be a particular threat to those in the caring profession who are pushed to their limits. In such settings, demanding that health care leaders and organizations do more to educate their staffs on the importance of noticing and treating compassion fatigue is not coddling or soft its what is best for caregivers and patients alike.
The good news is that there are proven interventions to help address and prevent compassion fatigue so that neither care providers nor patients must suffer its worst effects. In recent years, a growing body of research has studied the effectiveness of various treatment methods. Below are five techniques that all health care providers and organizations should consider.
Find Proactive Ways To Help Others
The pandemic brings a lot of bad news, and it leaves a lot of us feeling powerless in our ability to actually help.
This increases the chances that, over time, you might feel the need to tune out from other peoples suffering.
Instead, try to find proactive things you can do that make a difference.
These can be small acts of kindness for friends and family, like mailing a care package or running errands for neighbors. You can offer to do this in community groups like Nextdoor.
You can also get involved with a charity or cause you believe in.
How To Prevent And Treat Compassion Fatigue + Tests
4 Aug 2021 Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D.
The wide range of circumstances experienced by counselors and therapists leaves them open and vulnerable to experiencing compassion fatigue .
Such a state of emotional exhaustion typically occurs in response to the depth of empathic involvement required to work with people seeking help for their mental health .
Compassion fatigue is widely recognized as a pathway to occupational burnout and is detrimental to physical and mental wellbeing. Not only that, the condition is damaging to the therapeutic process and harmful to the client.
This article explores the role of self-care in compassion fatigue and the tests, measures, and treatments that can reduce its likelihood and impact.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to . These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself but will also give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.
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Engage In Outside Hobbies
Maintaining a solid work-life balance can help protect you from compassion fatigue. When all your time is spent working or thinking about work, it can be easy to burn out. Studies have shown work-life balance is becoming more important to workers, and making time for leisure activities and personal hobbies outside of work can help lower stress levels and improve overall life satisfaction.
Schedule Mental Health Hours
All people providing care or love to people who are struggling should schedule mental health hours each day. That doesnt always mean seeing a therapist. However, doing something at least one hour a day that is for your brain.
You might find relaxing activities that silence the thoughts. Maybe reading makes your mind wander, so instead you and your partner play a board game together. Or you watch a hilarious new comedy on a streaming service. You could try meditation, yoga, exercise, or anything that helps you turn off that inner critic and brings you to your inner peace.
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A Perfect Storm For Compassion Fatigue
Unlike other disasters that tend to bring people together to rebuild, pandemics make you fear your neighbor.
Pandemics cause compassion fatigue because the price is so high with getting sick and the fear it generates, explains Charles Figley, founder and leading researcher at the Traumatology Institute at Tulane.
The cost of caring is sometimes high, says Figley.
Every day we hear about the millions of Americans who have been infected by the new coronavirus and the hundreds of thousands who have died, often alone and away from family.
We hear the pain of their grieving loved ones, as well as the hardships faced by people losing their jobs, fearing eviction, and being unable to feed their families.
We get burned emotionally when we absorb trauma on a regular basis without a working plan to manage the consequence of the trauma memories and its wake of impact, says Figley.
This is why, throughout history, plagues have often led to loss of compassion. In the early 15th century and 16th century, plague victims were shipped to an island to die and buried in mass graves. In other cities, victims were sealed in their homes and no food or care was allowed.
In A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe wrote about an epidemic that struck London in 1665.
Everyone is struggling, and so its important to look out for each other, says Eric Zillmer, a professor of neuropsychology. Compassion creates a sense of belonging and a feeling of peace and mindfulness.
What’s Important To You
Andy’s story is the tip of an iceberg that’s grown rapidly in the last few years. Ten or 20 years ago, physicians who were tired of medicine and trying to transition out were 45 to 55 years old. Now, we have many 35- to 45-year-olds asking us, Am I going to have to quit medicine to have a life outside of work? Our answer is no. You can be a family physician without having to compromise your well-being. But living a balanced life does require that you take the time for self-reflection, identify what’s most important to you and adopt a healthier lifestyle. This isn’t something that’s been taught in most medical schools, and it’s not something that can wait until changes occur in the health care system.
Whether you want to prevent compassion fatigue or find your way back from it, begin to identify what’s important to you. It can help you feel better about your life and your life’s work.
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Pathways For Healing Compassion Fatigue
If you are a health care professional, healer, social worker, therapist, counsellor, change agent, or any other kind of helper, chances are you have heard of or experienced some form of compassion fatigue during the course of your career.
Compassion fatigue is considered an occupational hazard, or a cost of caring, within high-care occupations where empathy, caring for others, and compassion are at the occupational core. This hazard is often discussed in relation to other occupational hazards such as job stress, professional burnout, and vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress, to name a few.
There are many rewards and joys to being a helping professional. However, there can also be costs of caring. These costs can be emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual in nature.
I first became exposed to the topic of compassion fatigue when I was completing my Master of Social Work degree through the University of Northern British Columbia. I learned as much as I could about burnout prevention for social workers and within caregiving organizations. This was of interest to me, in part, due to losing three social work colleagues to suicide within the first ten years of my career. While I did my research in the areas of burnout and well-being for helpers, I came across the important work of Charles Figley, Ph.D., who coined the term compassion fatigue.
How do you fill your own emotional cup?
Be Aware Of How Bad News Affects You
Be aware of your own physical, as well as mental, reactions, says Figley.
A lot of us carry stress in our bodies. If you notice your jaw is clenched, your shoulders are hurting, or you feel physically tense, it might be a good time to take a break from the situation.
Youre not in a good place to help anyone if youre on the verge of snapping.
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Compassion Fatigue Is Real And It May Be Weighing You Down
If youre feeling emotionally exhausted from caring for your employees, know that youre not alone. Your feelings are valid. Many managers are finding that their empathy ebbs and flows. This is known as compassion fatigue: a deep physical and emotional exhaustion accompanied by emotional pain. But there are interventions available to help you mitigate the risks of compassion fatigue.
- Make self-care a routine: That means getting ample sleep, eating well, spending time with the people you care about, doing the things you love, and taking the occasional vacation. If you ignore yourself, you compromise your ability to manage your reactions, be present for your team, and empathize with others.
- Practice self-compassion: Many people mistakenly shun self-compassion, worried theyll become complacent and undermine their success. Research shows that self-compassion makes you a better leader, and can equip you to handle increased emotional demands.
- Protect your emotional state: When others share their pain and problems with you, focus on actively seeking out additional information to understand the situation. This can shield you from some of the damaging effects of compassion fatigue because it leads to cognitive empathy, rather than emotional empathy.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here.
Use Positive Coping Strategies
While it may be tempting to wash away the stress and emotional burdens of your job with alcohol or drugs, this can actually work in the reverse and compound stress in the long run. Consider making a list of positive coping strategies to use in times of stress. This might include deep breathing, meditation, taking a walk, talking with a friend, watching a funny movie, or relaxing in a hot bath.
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Protect Your Emotional State
Hearing and witnessing others pain and difficulties can be hard, especially if youre naturally empathic. While empathy helps you connect with others, it also makes you prone to absorbing the emotions and moods of those around you.
The contagiousness of emotions has been well established for years. However, a recent study showed that listening to others vent at work not only led to negative emotions in the leaders on the receiving end, but also increased the likelihood that they would mistreat others later in the day. Most importantly, the research showed that leaders could mitigate these adverse effects. How?
When others share their pain and problems with you, focus on actively seeking out additional information to better understand the situation. This response can shield you from some of the damaging effects because it leads to cognitive empathy, rather than emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is understanding how a person feels and what they may be thinking. Emotional empathy is about feeling what others feel, and left unchecked, can lead to compassion fatigue and damage your health.
When colleagues share their pain and problems, professor and emotional labor expert Alicia Grandey advises leaders to see their role as an information seeker versus a toxin handler. Negative emotions can provide valuable information about how to lead effectively, so long as you protect yourself from the potential collateral damage.
But Will It Be Enough
Jesus Christ spoke of these end times with sobering words: You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows .
Jesus foretold the suffering of these days. He also spoke of unprecedented catastrophic events that will come about, threatening the very existence of mankind . It will get much worse before it gets better.
In the midst of all this, Jesus also explained that because the end times will be so bad, the natural love and affection of human beings will grow cold . People will simply get tired of caring. Today health professionals call it compassion fatigue.
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Symptoms Of Empathy Fatigue
Burnout, empathy fatigue, and compassion fatigue share many of the same symptoms. Often they manifest as thoughts and beliefs.
For example, someone with empathy burnout may feel exhausted because they arent sleeping. This can cause them to feel distracted and disengaged during the day. It can also prompt them to feel unsatisfied with their job performance and to be short-tempered with their coworkers.
Below are 12 symptoms of empathy fatigue.
Coping With Compassion Fatigue: Steps To Revitalize And Get Back Into Nursing
By Emily Hayden on 08/08/2017
A patients first impression of a clinic or hospital is heavily based on the bedside manner of the nurses they encounter. Does my nurse see me as an individual instead of just another illness to be evaluated? Or are they just on a mission to clock out for the day? Will my nurse make an effort to understand the trauma this illness has caused in my family, or will they make assumptions to avoid the emotional investment?
The empathy and compassion required to be an effective nurse can also be exactly what leads these healthcare professionals to leave the field in search of a job that is not as emotionally taxing.
Being a caregiver can and should be rewarding. But what happens when all that giving begins to take its toll? This is when compassion fatigue becomes a concern. But before you decide nursing isnt for you, read on to find out what the experts have to say about dealing with compassion fatigue.
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Connect To A Bigger Picture
The Cost Of Caring: 10 Ways To Prevent Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue can be a serious occupational hazard for those in any kind of helping profession, with a majority of those in the field reporting experiencing at least some degree of it in their lives. This is no surprise, as it is typically those with the most empathy who are the most at risk.
Compassion fatigue is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion and a profound decrease in the ability to empathize. It is a form of secondary traumatic stress, as the stress occurs as a result of helping or wanting to help those who are in need. It is often referred to as the cost of caring for others who are in physical or emotional pain. If left untreated, compassion fatigue not only can affect mental and physical health, but it can also have serious legal and ethical implications when providing therapeutic services to people.
While it is not uncommon to hear compassion fatigue referred to as burnout, the conditions are not the same. Compassion fatigue is more treatable than burnout, but it can be less predictable and may come on suddenly or without much warning, whereas burnout usually develops over time.
Because it can arise so abruptly, it can be important for therapists and others in the helping professions to protect themselves from this condition. Here are 11 ways to prevent compassion fatigue from happening to you:
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What Is A Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue is a term that describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others â often through experiences of stress or trauma. Compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout, which is a cumulative sense of fatigue or dissatisfaction.
While burnout is one part of this form of fatigue, the term compassion fatigue encompasses a more specific experience, which may be brought about by a stressful workplace or environment, lack of resources, or excessive hours.
This form of fatigue is sometimes called a secondary stress reaction, secondhand shock, secondary traumatic stress, or vicarious trauma â largely because of compassion fatigueâs link to careers and positions that may regularly place you in stressful situations.
Compassion fatigue impacts a wide range of caregivers and professions. It is most common among professionals who work in a healing or helping capacity. If you are a legal professional, medical professional, therapist, first responder, nurse, or service provider of any kind, you may be more at risk for compassion fatigue.
For example, therapists may be affected by compassion fatigue through the experiences and stories of their patients. Some examples of common compassion fatigue triggers are:
While the symptoms can be frightening and sometimes debilitating, there are steps you can take to heal. Recognizing the signs, taking proactive preventive measures, and seeking treatment can help.