Dealing with Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Untitled designBurnout and compassion fatigue are a reality for many nurses today. As a nurse, you’re at the front lines of society’s most horrific events and it can be extremely overwhelming.

RN “GttDrop34” shares on the AllNurses forum: “I’ve definitely had problems with anxiety throughout my career. I suffered panic attacks many times either thinking about going to work, on the way to work, or at work. The simple fact that we have people’s lives in our hands can be such an uneasy feeling. If a nurse ISN’T anxious at least some of the time, I’d say they’re doing something wrong or they’re not very caring.”

LVN “vintagemother” echoes these comments, “I tend to think that many nurses have anxiety issues. I do. I worked with nurses who had high anxiety and now I’m in school with nurses who also have high anxiety. I think anxiety and attention to detail may go hand in hand, and attention to detail and worrying, makes us prudent nurses.”

While it may be difficult to avoid the “routine” stresses associated with being a nurse, it is important to acknowledge the dangers that chronic anxiety and stress contribute to nursing burnout. By being watchful of symptoms and dealing with these realities head on, you’ll have a better handle on your mental health.

If you are experiencing fatigue due to being overworked, Nursing World suggests that “Seeking out a mentor, supervisor, experienced nurse, or a charge nurse who understands the norms and expectations of one’s unit may assist in identifying strategies that will help cope with the current work situation. Some examples of helpful strategies might include: changing the work assignment or shift; recommending time off or reducing overtime hours; encouraging attendance at a conference; or becoming involved in a project of interest. These actions have the potential to enhance the work environment and promote work-life balance.”

Being caring is part of the DNA of being a nurse, but finding that healthy boundary between cold-hearted and emotionally attached can be difficult for many nursing, often leading to compassion fatigue. Fortis does a great job of putting this into perspective: “There’s a principle nurses often teach the caregivers in a family: they have to take care of themselves to be able to take care of their loved ones. Guess what? It applies to nurses, too.” So where is that boundary? This boundary likely varies slightly from nurse to nurse, but looking to your professional obligation proves a great place to start. It’s true, every nurse has their stories of going above and beyond professional obligation, but it’s important that those instances are extraordinary.

We would love to know: how do you dealing with approaching burning and compassion fatigue?