At worst, empathy fatigue is a person’s inability to care. It’s the negative consequence of repeated exposure to stressful or traumatic events. It can manifest both emotionally or physically.
“When we’re under stress day after day, it’s like a constant drip of cortisol that goes to our brain,” says Dr. Albers. “And we can only do that for so long until our body and mind start to break down.” A compassionate nurse is empathetic to the pain and suffering of her patients, which is vital to the patients' well-being. Compassionate care makes patients more comfortable when they're in pain, feeling ill or suffering from mental or emotional stress.
The potential health consequence for workers involved in direct patient care with high risk for unpredictable mortality is sparsely studied. Related work stressors can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue which may result in absenteeism, staff turnover, aggressive behaviors among staff and medical errors.
Burnout is defined as ‘a syndrome of emotional exhaustion depersonalization towards patients, and reduced sense of personal accomplishment’, and is also seen as ‘a psychological syndrome that involves a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job’ consisting of three components: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and personal efficacy.
Compassion fatigue is, as Joinson (1992) describes, found in situations where health providers either turned off their own feelings or experienced helplessness from exposure to treatment or care settings for devastating illnesses or trauma. While compassion fatigue is “A cost of caring” and may deplete professionals of the empathy and emotional energy critical for a therapeutic relationship with a client or patient while vicarious trauma includes ‘reexperiencing the traumatic events, avoidance/numbing of reminders and persistent arousal’ from care settings.
Compassion satisfaction on the other hand, refers to the positivity involved in caring, and involves ‘the ability to receive gratification from caregiving’.
The understanding of Empathy, Compassion, Fatigue or Burnout should now be somewhat clearer but how would we measure it? The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is the most widely-recognized burnout survey. It was designed to measure burnout among human services employees. The survey takes 10–15 minutes to assess the three components of burnout: Exhaustion, Cynicism, Ineffectiveness.
“I accumulated small but consistent habits that ultimately led to results that were unimaginable when I started”.
A quote by James Clear so accurately tells us that small change is still change. Consistency is key, and creating a healthier overall environment while managing your day-to-day routine is the first step to taking control of both your emotional, psychological and physical well-being.
These are some important questions to ask ourselves, so spend time thinking deeply on them.
Look at the deeper impact of what you do every day; how does your work make life better for other people? How could you add more meaning to what you do every day? Lets call it, working with purpose.
The manifestation of your thoughts can also play a huge role and contribute to stress. By monitoring your thoughts and practicing positive thinking , you can change unhelpful reactions and manage your emotions through a stressful situation.
You can avoid or overcome burnout by finding ways to create more autonomy in your role. Take pride in your work and reward yourself for all the laborious effort you've put into your role. Then tie these in with daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly personal goals. Whether that looks like continued education in your field, a hard-earned vacation or simply spending more quality time with loved ones.
Exercise can help alleviate stress and create a sense of well-being. You will also experience increased energy and productivity when you exercise regularly. What's more, regular exercise will help you get a good night's sleep. Which leads us to the next habit and sometimes the hardest of them all to achieve when experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue.
Because of the fundamental role that sleep plays in emotion regulation and body homeostasis, sleep disturbance can have direct consequences on both emotional functioning and wellbeing. Getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. In fact, it’s just as important as eating a balanced, nutritious diet and exercising.
At Cromwell Medical, we acknowledge that nurses need help to stay strong which is why we provide emotional and psychological support for all our nurses. If you’re looking to join a team that looks out for your well-being, browse through our jobs or get in touch- we’d love to hear from you!
-Coping with compassion fatigue. Nursing. 1992. C Joinson. PMID
-Journal of Psychology in Africa, 2016.
-Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management, Women’s College Hospital, Toronto, ON Canada
-Sule Kesbiç, Ilkay Boz. (2021) Experiences of perinatal nurses regarding compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction: a phenomenological study.