When Enough is Enough – Recognizing Compassion Fatigue

*As with all of my posts, this post reflects my opinion only, and does not reflect on any individual or organization, but rather the health care system in general.

How do you know when enough is enough? You may have noticed the last couple weeks, I haven’t written very much. I feel like my heart has been stretched thin, and words are hard to find.

I think a certain amount of becoming weary is expected when you work with people at the end-of-life. Yes, the job can be extremely rewarding, but it’s also very emotional. You’re dealing with patients and families during times of crisis. It’s important to have good boundaries, but sometimes, the weight we carry weighs on our hearts more than others.

Lately it seems like things are falling apart all around me. The hospital that I usually work at has gotten increasingly busy and chaotic. The patients we’re for caring for seem to be sicker. And younger. Today a very complicated discharge plan heartbreakingly fell apart. Our hospice nurses are spread thin. Medicare regulations make it harder and harder to do what we love – nursing. And always on my heart are two of my dearest friends who are in the middle of bring treated for breast cancer.

Each of these things in and of themselves is doable. It’s when one situation piles on top of another that the weight begins to seem unbearable. The past couple of weeks have felt this way. For myself, I begin to lose hope – hope that things will get better, hope that the system will change, hope that the joy of caring for our patients will outweigh the burdens of regulations and policies. I start to think about leaving my job – maybe things would be better in a different area, or in a different type of nursing. Or maybe I just want to work in a coffee shop and leave patient care and medicine behind.

For me, these are my red flags of compassion fatigue.

– increased complaining
– decreased joy in caring for others
– isolation from co-workers
– feeling more tired than usual, sometimes to the point of exhaustion
– increased anger and irritability
– insomnia
– increased illness or absenteeism
– forgetfulness, lack of attention to detail
– reduced empathy or sympathy for others
– feelings of hopelessness/ helplessness/ depression
– desire to avoid difficult situations with clients or coworkers

Next, I’ll talk about what to do (0r  not do) when you recognize the signs of compassion fatigue.

Have you ever felt compassion fatigue? How do you know when enough is enough? What are your red flags?

*** This post does not reflect my opinion on any particular organization, rather it reflects my dissatisfaction with the state of health care in general.

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