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Novant Health UVA Health System Team Member Newsletter

Recognizing compassion fatigue – and how to overcome it


Are you a nurse or caregiver? Then you may know this firsthand: Caring too much can hurt.

In a recent nursing lunch and learn, Kate Edwards, RN, from the Novant Health Haymarket Medical Center PACU spoke about the phenomenon of compassion fatigue and how you can identify and address symptoms.

When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. For the most part, compassion-fatigued caregivers have never learned the fine art of saying “no.” Day in, day out, team members struggle to function in caregiving environments that constantly present heart-wrenching, emotional challenges. Apathy, isolation, bottled-up emotions and even substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder — compassion fatigue.

While compassion fatigue can cause pain and suffering, we need to be able to recognize not only what to change, but how to start making those changes. Working toward a balanced lifestyle will mean “unlearning” bad habits along the way. Compassion fatigue symptoms are normal displays of stress resulting from the caregiving work you perform on a regular basis. To learn more about the possible symptoms visit our Novant Health Employee Assistance Program (EAP) website.

With the appropriate information and support, you can learn how to build resilience and create a happier lifestyle. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, etc. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or don’t have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The first step to building resilience is to know when and how to turn feelings off or on while at work or at home. This is not denial; it is a coping strategy. It is a way to get maximum protection while working (switched off) and maximum support while resting (switched on).

Ensure that you have healthy standards for self-care. Assess your interpersonal needs and see if you are meeting your physical, psychological and spiritual needs. Use the eight dimensions model of self-care to help you with this:

1. Physical: body strength, flexibility, balance, aerobic stamina

2. Psychological/emotional: limit-setting, managing emotions

3. Spiritual: having a sense of purpose, are things in place?v

4. Intellectual: learning, growth, development

5. Financial: are you saving money?

6. Social: connectedness to others, network of friends, having fun, an outer circle

7. Family: inner circle

8. Occupational: job, how you occupy your time

We must learn to build a strong support system, become involved and call for help when necessary. EAP provides short-term counseling and support to team members and their immediate family. EAP offers appointments to meet the diverse work shift schedules of our team members. Call EAP at 800-828-2778 to make an appointment, or visit the EAP website for more information.

Accepting the presence of compassion fatigue in your life only serves to validate the fact that you are a deeply caring individual. It is possible to practice healthy, ongoing self-care while successfully continuing to care for others.

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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