Caregiver fatigue has been a well recognized situation with families of long term illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, it hasn’t been until recent years that caregiver fatigue has been recognized in health care workers, such as nurses and sometimes physicians. It is often referred to as compassion fatigue when applied to health care workers. Nurses are especially vulnerable to compassion fatigue especially due to their close care and relationship with patients each and every day. Those nurses especially at risk are nurses who work in high acuity areas such as intensive care units and the emergency department where outcomes are not often considered “positive”.
Caregiver fatigue is often characterized by depression, poor work attitude and general lack of empathy to their patients and the peers. The persons tend to be very irritable and demonstrate periods of poor coping with periods of outbursts. Suffers often describe difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. The symptoms often creep up on the sufferer and is usually recognized by those around them before the person themselves. You know that cranky nurse you hate getting report from… she may be suffering too.
Avoiding Caregiver Fatigue
Recognize you are vulnerable
You are almost ignorant if think you are not vulnerable to caregiver or compassion fatigue. As mentioned, nurses who work in high acuity areas are at more high risk due to the continued exposure to perceived poor outcomes. The nurse in these areas tend to give everything to their patients in an effort to save their lives, but often that positive effort is met with negative results. Again, the nurse needs to be sensitive to this repeated exposure as awareness is the first step. Nurses are especially vulnerable if they are also responsible for caring for a loved one at home. Its the double jeopardy.
Nurse are great at caring for others, but terrible at caring for themselves! They need to take measures to perform good self-care activities. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise, stay connected to a positive group of support and find a hobby! Nurses all would give this advise to their patients, but rarely would follow their own advise.
Find a supportive work environment
Often the work environment is part or most of the problem of caregiver and compassion fatigue. Caring for patients is stressful enough and when the environment that they are providing this care is contributing to the stress can certainly make maters much worse. Yes, the patients are getting sicker, but the staffing levels have not necessarily kept up. This added stress can contribute to an increased risk of caregiver and compassion fatigue. If your work environment is not supportive, you may need a new environment. There are work place environments that are supportive and working to combating caregiver and compassion fatigue. You just need to go out and find them, sometimes for your own health.
Consider a job change
I say all the time that the beauty of nursing is that you can have so many different careers within the same profession. No, we can not all leave the bedside, but some can certainly do need a break. There are so many different opportunities in nursing, so maybe you should go out and find something that will be more fulfilling.
During the emergency talk when flying on a plane – if the atmosphere should drop in the cabin and the oxygen masks fall, who’s mask should you put on first? Yours, of course, then help those around you.
I found myself falling prey to caregiver fatigue after years working in the ICU. It was inevitable, especially as I became a more senior staff member, taking the sicker patients and precepting many new nurses. I realized my passion for my job was slowly deteriorating and was due to compassion fatigue. The negatives were far outweighing the positives. I started looking for other opportunities and found myself working as a clinical instructor. My passion has been renewed and I still get to be at the bedside, just not all in, all day like before.
Remember, it is just as important to care for yourself as it is to care for others!!