To combat is to fight against something. The definition of compassion fatigue is a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion, associated with caregivers of patients with extreme physical distress and emotional pain. It is a unique natural form of burnout affecting caregivers. This problem is usually common with nurses of cancer patients, emergency room personnel, and chaplains. Compassion fatigue affects nurses in every specialty, when during their provision of empathetic support; they personally start experiencing their patient’s pain. Compassion fatigue not only affects the nurses in terms job satisfaction, emotional and physical health, but also the working environment. This is through decreasing productivity and increasing turnover. For this reason, nurses who do not seek intervention for their continued stress may have a physical and emotional breakdown; meaning they will need to be cared for (Neil, 2002).
The individualities of compassionate nursing during care giving are the same traits that make nurses to be susceptible to traumatizing depression, stress burnouts. There are precautionary strategies that caregivers can use as indispensable ingredients for their survival in playing their roles effectively and productively. In addition to this, these strategies are also fundamental for the personal growth of caregivers and patients. Through caregivers’ dedication and availability, patients can experience quick healing and in return offer aid in the healing with others. Caregivers need to understand the nature and expectations of their roles, so that they are able to take protective self-care procedures to avoid burnouts and traumatizing stress and depression. For example, exercising, maintaining adequate nutrition and sleep, recreation and reaching out for support from others; including the family and loved ones of patients. While these strategies are effective and productive in care giving roles, they are complex to uphold on an ongoing basis (Frigley, 2002).
This is because the strategies are one-dimensional and undemanding, and they do not cater for the spiritual needs of caregivers, which are majorly essential for their roles and their self-care. For this reason, caregivers and their supervisors need to understand that the only basis of preventing compassion fatigue is giving care and protection of one’s spiritual needs. This way, caregivers will be able to find meaning in their roles and feel content with their service to the society. On the other hand, they will learn to deal with tragedies and grief in their roles, as well as embrace opportunities available for their growth and productivity. In addition to this, caregivers should be alert and able to see-through the needs and changes occurring in their patients, such as change in symptoms or occurrence of severe symptoms that can make them vulnerable to compassion fatigue. They also need to set restrictions in doing all the work themselves and accept support from patients’ families, peers and friends, and coworkers (Frigley, 2002).
There are five major warning signs or concepts associated with compassion fatigue:, physical exhaustion, apathy, emotional exhaustion, impaired judgment, and depression. For example, physically, a person may have headaches, palpitations, muscle tension and back pains, digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea, and sleep disorders like insomnia. Emotionally, a person may display depression, oversensitivity, irritability, poor concentration, anger and resentment, memory issues, and restlessness. Apathy signs may include recurrent use of sick days, dodging to work with certain patients, lack of joyfulness and reduced ability to feel compassion for patients. Depression signs include lack of interest in religious and social functions, and at times be rising against authority. Even though more than one of these signs are demonstrated before, a caregiver is identified to have compassion fatigue, it is also important to note that any of these signs could authenticate the presence of compassion fatigue (Frigley, 2002).
So often, caregivers get busy caring for others that they disregard their own spiritual, physical and emotional needs. The nature of this fatigue is that it calls for a lot of patience, understanding and commitment to the demands of patients from the caregivers. The demands on a caregiver’s body, emotions, and mind can be devastating and may easily lead to hopelessness. Several fundamental factors contribute to compassion fatigue, for example, role confusion. This is common in a person who takes up care giving and finds it difficult to play this role without emotional attachment. Unrealistic expectations in a caregiver may also cause compassion fatigue. Many of them expect immediate impact on the general well-being of the patient in their involvement with the patient. This may not be the case for patients suffering chronic progressive illnesses like cancer and may still die eventually (Frigley, 2002).
Other causes of compassion fatigue include unrealistic demands and lack of control. Most caregivers view care giving as their most important job, for this reason, they set unrealistic goals for themselves. Family members of the patients like parents, siblings and the patients themselves may also place burdens on the caregivers by disregarding their duties and leaving everything to the caregivers. Caregivers are at times frustrated by lack of sufficient resources, finances and skills to plan effectively, organize and manage their patients’ care. These problems, if not avoided by the caregiver, may affect their productivity and they may get to a point where they become sick themselves (Todaro, 2012).
Although caregivers need to give empathetic support to their patients, they also need to take care of themselves to ensure productivity. The caregiver’s inability to give care may create a potentially stressful and unsafe environment for the care recipient and the caregiver. This can only be made possible if their spiritual, physical and emotional needs are met. Physical needs of a caregiver include good health through eating of balanced meals, occasional general health check up, and physical fitness that will help them have a sound mind and relieve stress. Emotional needs include healthy relationships with loved ones, family and the patient, unconditional love and support from family and friends, and understanding and guidance from co-caregivers and nursing managers. Lastly, spiritual needs of the caregiver include maintaining an inner spiritual connection to help them find purpose and meaning in the face of these difficult times. When a person has spiritual accomplishment, they are in a better position to find courage in them to perform better at their jobs as caregivers (Todaro, 2012).
With the demands and the expectations of the patients, a caregiver needs to develop a strategic plan to help them cope with the challenges and resources to help give them support in their roles. Some of these strategies may include taking proper care of themselves through healthy meals and physical exercises like jogging, hiking, swimming. This will ensure their physical and mental fitness and will reduce chances of stress and depression. Occasional therapy sessions may help them deal with emotional trauma such as the death of patients. Continued support and assistance from the nursing managers and the patients’ family, when necessary and frequent self-assessment is recommended (Neil, 2002).
In conclusion, care giving has received considerable attention as a noble profession. Several individuals are considering care giving as a permanent profession that helps them give service back to the society. While it has advantages, such as caregivers getting the opportunity to change the life of patients for the better through the care they give, it also has disadvantages such as caregiver burnouts and depression. Nevertheless, caregivers have an option of taking care of themselves as they take care of their patients. This way, they can be effective and productive in their roles. It is as important that a caregiver understands the phenomenon of his or her well-being, as well as the nature and nurture of his or her role.