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Compassion fatigue

November 1, 2009
by Maureen Hrehocik, Editor
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Are you suffering from compassion fatigue? Two news releases crossed my desk this past month that focused on professionals in high-stress occupations losing the inspiration that attracted them to their work in the first place. Author Patricia Smith*

To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving by Patricia Smith

calls it “compassion fatigue,” and says it is a secondary traumatic stress syndrome. Wow. We get so wrapped up in what we're doing we often forget to take care of ourselves. How can we take care of others when all our energy and enthusiasm is spent? It seems a simple concept on paper, but oh-so-hard in real life. Smith urges those suffering from compassion fatigue to slow down, reexamine themselves in a new light, become more mindful of their own needs, and take an authentic interest in themselves. I think compassion fatigue rears its ugly head when we lose inspiration for what we do, especially for those in healthcare who are surrounded by pain, disease, and suffering daily. Another author, Rich Bluni, RN, says inspiration is a
choice we must actively make each day. Here's how he says to recapture inspiration:

  • Own your life; don't rent it. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.” Look for ways to be inspiring. Sit with a lonely resident, ask a staffer if they need help, give your time to make someone else's day a little easier.

  • Be aware of negativity, but don't obsess over it. Focus on the positive. As Bluni says, “Who ever got really healthy from being really good at being sick?”

  • Stop hanging out with psychic vampires. I love this one. We all have people around us who drip negativity. These people never have a good day and always point out what's wrong or that they work harder than anyone else. They are a plague to residents and staff alike. Get rid of them.

  • Take five. Bluni has designed a five-day exercise to increase your feeling of inspiration at work that includes $5; five “thank you” notes; five stamps, envelopes, and sheets of paper; five minutes; and five prayers/positive thoughts. I don't have enough space here to explain what to do with them but you can read about it in Bluni's book, Inspired Nurse.

As the holiday season is upon us, stress, for some, will increase even more. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of and inspire your staff. Healthcare workers in the long-term care industry are blessed with the privilege of taking care of a precious, vulnerable, dwindling segment of our society. But that segment can test the patience and compassion of the best. As they say on preflight airline safety briefings, put on your own oxygen mask first then help others. It's only when you can breathe that others benefit.

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Maureen Hrehocik, Editor Long-Term Living 2009 November;58(11):6

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