Combating Compassion Fatigue

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Compassionate fatigue refers to the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social exhaustion that overcomes individuals and leads to persistent decline in their desire, energy, and ability to care for other people (Bush, 2009). The victim may fail to experience joy or satisfaction personally or professionally because of compassionate fatigue. Warning signs of compassionate fatigue include avoidance, nightmares, somatic complaints, addiction, sadness and grief, decreased intimacy, psychological arousal, detachment, and change in assumptions, beliefs, and expectations. Burnout refers to a subtle process that makes a person to experience a mental or physical collapse due to overworking or stress (Espeland, 2006). This leads to physical symptoms, interpersonal conflicts, negative emotions, compulsive activities and decreased productivity. Individuals experiencing burnout believe the challenging situation may become persistent. This paper will consider the warning signs for the concepts of compassion fatigue, nature of the problems and their causes, the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the caregiver, as well as the coping strategies and resources for nursing practice.

Concepts of Compassion Fatigue

The five major concepts of compassion fatigue include physical exhaustion, depression, emotional exhaustion, apathy, and impaired judgment (Bush, 2009). These concepts of compassion fatigue have a close association with various warning signs, which help individuals understand that they are likely to suffer from compassion fatigue. Physical exhaustion is a significant concept that predicts the likelihood of compassion fatigue. People should keep their bodies healthy by maintaining various favorable conditions, such as sufficient energy supply, enough rest, and physical exercises (Austin, Goble, Leier, & Byrne, 2009). Lack of these conditions will make the body extremely exhausted, thereby hindering proper functioning. Some of the symptoms that result from insufficient nutrients, physical exercise, and physical rest include irritability, fatigue, and insomnia. Failure to treat the symptoms, physical exhaustion can result in physical ailments, including dizziness, chronic pain, digest problems, headaches, colds, and impairment in the proper functioning of various body systems (Bush, 2009).

Emotional exhaustion is another concept that warns individuals on the likelihood of compassion fatigue. Emotional exhaustion takes place when the emotional equilibrium fails to undergo restoration. In the contemporary society, family, life, and job demands have become inordinate and overwhelming (Austin, Goble, Leier, & Byrne, 2009). Combining the demands with various stressors, such as caring for the sick, increased productivity demands with few employees, and a person’s unrealistic expectations, would describe medical professionals, such as nurses, in the contemporary (Bush, 2009). Nurses experience a persistent engagement in emotional relations with patients, which forces a nurse to assume a supporting role constantly. Therefore, a nurse may reach emotional exhaustion when the burden of taking care of patients becomes overwhelming (Austin, Goble, Leier, & Byrne, 2009). Manifestation of emotional exhaustion takes place through various symptoms including isolation, hostility to other people, excessive blaming among others. Individuals suffering from emotional exhaustion may experience sudden emotional blowup, crying for various issues irrespective of their extent. They show signs of paranoia and fail to work with teams comfortably. Other symptoms may include stomach problems and heart palpitations, which are physical.

Another concept that warns individuals of the likelihood of compassion fatigue include apathy (Bush, 2009). Apathy refers to lack of concern or interest, as well as lack of emotion or feelings. Depletion of emotional reserves makes people apathetic, uncaring, or preoccupied. A person’s psychological part can endure tremendous emotional load before shutting down and becoming numb to emotions. Apathy leads to feelings of lack of accomplishment and inadequacies (Austin, Goble, Leier, & Byrne, 2009). Individuals suffering from apathy may perceive their occupation as a great burden and fail to find any pleasure in various activities. A nurse may experience reduced concentration and reduced productivity, which will hinder the accomplishment of a quality work. Apathy leads to absenteeism and tardiness, complaints from other people, and can result in the termination of a nurse’s job.

Depression is another common concept of compassion fatigue among caregivers and nurses (Bush, 2009). This usually results from an extreme feeling of hopelessness and sadness. Indicators of depression include lack of self-worth, purpose, joy, as well as feelings of inadequacy. Nurses experience depression usually because of high demands of the family, home, and job, as well as to fulfill the self-imposed expectations (Austin, Goble, Leier, & Byrne, 2009).  Expression of depression can be both physically and psychologically. For instance, a nurse may get uncharacteristically angry and negative, denying the presence of a problem. Nurses suffering from depression may also portray reduced confidence and low self-esteem, which exemplifies loss of dignity. Persistence of depression may lead to the feelings of emptiness and worthlessness, which may result in suicidal thoughts.

Compulsive behaviors serve as the reaction of the other concepts of compassion fatigue. These refer to decisions or actions, which people make without consideration or thought of consequences. People exhibit the compulsive behaviors as a strategy to address the stressors that nurses experience. The behaviors can make a person’s mind off the daily stressors. Compulsive behaviors include under-eating or overeating, excessive drinking, excessive shopping, worrying, gambling, among others (Bush, 2009).

Spiritual, Physical, and Emotional Needs of the Caregiver

It is necessary to maintain the needs of caregivers because they have a high likelihood of developing compassionate fatigue. The caregivers whether family, professional, or friend will feel stressed and overwhelmed in the course of executing their work Carmel, M., & Friedlander, M. L. (2009). Proper nutrition, exercise, hydration, as well as adequate rest, will enhance a caregiver’s physical strength. Emotionally, must undergo a frequent recharge to avoid experiencing emotional exhaustion. Meditation, prayer, and engaging in spiritual practices result in spiritual rejuvenation of a caregiver, thereby satisfying the caregiver’s spiritual needs.

Coping Strategies and Resources for Nursing Practice

Prevention is the most appropriate treatment against compassion fatigue. Caregivers should exercise diligence in self-care to prevent the development of compassion fatigue (Austin, Goble, Leier, & Byrne, 2009). Development of a healthy association with people is another coping strategy because it will contribute to a caregiver’s self-esteem. Caregivers, should improve their physical health, nurture their emotional health, and maintain their spiritual life. Useful resources for combating compassion fatigue among caregivers include the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Program and Caregiver.com. Family members, faith, bible study, and prayers also serve as significant resources for addressing compassion fatigue (Austin, Goble, Leier, & Byrne, 2009).

Conclusion

Caregivers continue to struggle in an environment that overwhelms them emotionally, physically, and psychologically (Bush, 2009). The caregivers’ stress level rises to unmanageable levels because of the increasing workloads, as well as heavy demands of energy and time. Therefore, many caregivers have a high likelihood of developing compassion fatigue. In the contemporary society, caregivers need the tools and knowledge to develop a work ethic and lifestyle that demands rejuvenation and restoration from the spiritual, emotional, and physical strain.               

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