by Paula Manuel Staff Nurse Interest Group

“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” –Unknown

I have always (well most of the time) practiced self-care in a way that permits me to meet the demands of my chosen profession of nursing.  It is not possible to be an effective nurse if your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are in disarray.  Certainly I had episodes of burnout and compassion fatigue and my transformation came about by committing time, resources, and using all my knowledge, skills, and spirituality to nurture me. The ongoing journey has enhance my life and I strive to deliver service excellence without compromising my own well-being.

That said when reviewing info from various sources of note; nurses who are less experienced, exhibit decreased compassion satisfaction (emotionally not present, indeed unhappy) are at risk for burnout. Some individuals who exhibit high levels of caring, paradoxically, are more susceptible to compassion fatigue.  Literature has different criteria for compassion fatigue and burnout but generally the following captures the symptoms:

Cognitive, lowered concentration, apathy, rigidity, disorientation, minimization, preoccupation with trauma

Emotional Powerlessness, anxiety, guilt, anger, numbness, fear, helplessness, sadness, depression, depleted, shock, blunted or enhanced affect.Experiencing troubling dreams similar to a patient’s dream. Suddenly and involuntarily recalling a frightening experience while working with a patient or family

Behavioral, irritable, withdrawn, moody, poor sleep, nightmares, appetite change, hyper-vigilance, isolating

Spiritual, questioning life’s meaning, pervasive hopelessness, loss of purpose, questioning of religious beliefs, loss of faith/skepticism

Somatic, sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing difficulty, aches and pains, dizziness, impaired immune system, headaches, difficulty falling or staying asleep. (Portnoy, 2011)

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations, an individual can feel disillusioned, negative, and a heightened sense of vulnerability.

Compassion Fatigue is a type of burnout that can emerge suddenly, tends to be more pervasive, and inherently linked to empathy.  It is a natural consequence of stress, that results from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people.  This condition can be more profound as you can experience a loss of meaning and hope, indeed have reactions associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The personal impact can manifest as decreased motivation, apathy, lower morale, increased absenteeism, even deciding to leave the profession of nursing.  The costs are significant and the need for intervention are individually based and at the organization and system level.  Consider this and part 2 will arrive soon….Namaste

“Once you become aware of what stands in your way and become willing to release it, you signal the universe that you are ready to manifest the life you were meant to live.” Chérie Carter-Scott

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