Avoiding compassion fatigue

By Dr Tamara Power and Carolyn Hayes

The majority of students enter nursing because they are altruistic and wish to help people.


However, studies have shown that through constant exposure to people’s trauma and suffering, nurses can become both physically and psychologically burnt-out and suffer compassion fatigue (Ledoux 2015).

Compassion fatigue can manifest as feelings of anxiety, anger, cynicism and vulnerability and nurses can become detached from the care they provide (Ledoux 2015).

This is unhealthy for the nurse and impacts on patients’ health and wellbeing (Ledoux 2015).

The key to remaining compassionate is caring for yourself (Mills, Wand & Fraser 2015).

Here are some things to consider [adapted from Boyle (2015)]:

  • Make an effort to separate work from home. Talk to your family about your mood when you return from work or clinical placement. They will be sensitive to any changes in your overall mood
  • Take opportunities to debrief after confronting shifts with your peers and team leaders. For making sense of very traumatic events you may wish to speak to a counsellor
  • Make sure you schedule some ‘me’ time. This isn’t selfish but necessary. Take yourself for a walk, or disappear into a book. Schedule a massage or take a bubble bath
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy with people you care about.
  • Look after your physical health through ensuring you get enough sleep, exercise and good nutritious foods
  • Look after your spiritual health through practicing mindfulness. There are many free online courses and application.

All of these things will contribute to your physical and emotional wellbeing and make you more resilient.

Remember you can’t care well for others if you aren’t well and cared for yourself.

Boyle, D 2015, ‘Compassion fatigue: The cost of caring’, Nursing, vol. 45, no. 7, pp. 48-51.

Ledoux, K 2015, ‘Understanding compassion fatigue: Understanding compassion’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol. 71, no. 9, pp. 2041-50.

Mills, J, Wand, T & Fraser, JA 2015, ‘On self-compassion and self-care in nursing: Selfish or essential for compassionate care?’, International Journal of Nursing Studies, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 791-3.

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