Avoiding Caregiver Fatigue

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. Some found that doing something as simple as a new mattress from somewhere like Leesa might help to improve their quality of sleep. However, 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.

  • Good self-care

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, take mitochondria supplements, stay connected to a positive group of support and find a hobby! If you do find yourself struggling with sleep, then there are plenty of things you could do to try and help yourself get a better night’s sleep. You may simply need to replace your old mattress to help support your body, and it’s worth checking a site like Raise (https://www.raise.com/coupons/saatva) to see if there are any savings to be had on this purchase. Nurses would all give this advice to their patients, but rarely would follow their own advice, so take a step back and ask yourself what you would do if this was someone else coming to you for advice, and make sure to do whatever it is you would suggest!

  • 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 – all you need to do is find them. Online research can really help in the initial stages of finding a good work place environment. You might want to check online galleries of any potential new work environments and these can be easily found, for example https://www.careagapeseniorhomes.com/location/placentia-4931/, to give you a feel of the place before further research.

  • 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!!

This post was written as part of the Nurse Blog Carnival If you are interested in participating find out more details and sign up here.

Comments (6)

  1. Susan J. Brown


    It used to be called “burn out” & is certainly real… sjb “_”

  2. Reply

    I love your tip about changing jobs. This can make so much difference in the quality of some nurse’s lives. I really wish more people would consider doing this as some job situations are not going to change so the nurse must make a change. I also think self employment is a option for some nurses.

    • Joan RN


      Thanks for visiting & your comments. I agree, so many nurses stay in jobs too long & they are just miserable. Thanks for visiting!!

  3. Reply

    I can totally relate about caregiver burnout. I did change jobs and have found my quality of life climbing back to some resemblance of normal. I’ve actually started blogging a little again after a long hiatus.

    • Joan RN


      Thanks for the visit & comments. I also am a new blogger & find it a great outlet. Good luck in your new journey!

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