How Can Professional Nurses Cope with Compassion Fatigue?

| Updated on March 27, 2024
Professional Nurses Cope with Compassion Fatigue

Nursing is a profession synonymous with empathy and caregiving. Professional nurses are some of the most resilient and compassionate people on earth. They work 80 hours, or more, in a single week, provide medical assistance to those in need, act almost as a therapist, and never complain once about their hectic work schedule.

However, this exertion takes a heavy toll as working long shifts and helping patients with serious injuries is challenging. Covid19 has only increased feelings of exhaustion and overwhelming anxiety among nurses. That said, many nurses, especially those working in oncology and emergency care, go through one particular problem called compassion fatigue at one point or another (the reported range is between 16 and 39 percent).

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue has turned into a serious issue for registered health professionals. But what exactly is it? It’s a severe form of severe physical and emotional exhaustion that reduces a profound decrease in a person’s capacity to empathize. Unsurprisingly, professional nurses are the most vulnerable. Those who sympathize the most are usually most at risk.

Considered an ancillary form of traumatic stress, it results from the need to help others unconditionally and, if left untreated, can severely affect mental and physical wellbeing. What’s more, it can result in legal implications for professional nurses. Like the MSN Family Nurse Practitioner Degree, Modern nursing programs thoroughly address ethical and legal guidelines for graduates to consider. However, a common misconception is labeling compassion fatigue as a “burnout.” Both have similar symptoms, but compassion fatigue is much more durable. Conversely, it is less predictable and usually sets in without much warning.

Because it is so quick and less predictable, anyone related to the medical field needs to be on the lookout. That said, let’s take a look at seven ways to monitor and preferably prevent compassion fatigue from happening to you!

1. Knowledge is Key

You might be at risk if you feel overwhelmed because of long shift hours. Take some time and get informed about potential signs and symptoms. To help you jump start your research, here are some of the most common symptoms associated with compassion fatigue:

  • Chronic weakness (both emotional and physical)
  • Increased apathy towards patients and things in general
  • Being irritable
  • Feeling angry or anxious
  • Being Hypersensitive or insensitive
  • Migraines
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Weight loss
  • Contracted sense of fulfillment, both in career and relationships
  • Impaired work-life balance
  • Erroneous decision-making

2. Self-care and a Healthy Lifestyle 

Self-care is extremely important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Often, those who put the needs of others first end up ignoring their causing exhaustion and a feeling of depletion. A good self-care routine might look different based on your individual needs, but here are a few steps to take to get started:

  • A balanced diet
  • Regular exercise (high intensity combined with low-to-medium intensity workouts)
  • At least a 7-hour sleep cycle
  • Taking care of your emotional and physical needs
  • Good balance between work and relaxation

3. Extracurricular Activities 

A good work-life balance means working professionally on the job and then taking the appropriate time off to relax and recuperate. If you spend most of your time stressing about work, you will become overwhelmed and feel less motivated when you eventually return, thereby setting a dangerous precedent.

So take some time out for leisure activities and hobbies, spend time with friends and family, watch movies, travel, or learn a new skill. Doing so will improve your mood and strengthen your resolve!

4. Maintain Emotional Boundaries

Caregivers and professional nurses sometimes fail to set emotional boundaries and become overly attached to their patients’ problems. But doing so only makes them feel responsible and guilty if they are not always available to help them. However, if you expose yourself to traumatic experiences every day, you leave yourself vulnerable to the onslaught of compassion fatigue.

The challenge is to maintain a balance between showing compassion and becoming overly involved in your patient’s life. Treat yourself with the same respect and care that you do your patients and realize that not everything is your responsibility. You are an individual with your own needs and life.

5. Write a Journal

Research shows that journal writing is an efficient way to positively let out your negative thoughts and feelings. Writing a journal helps you process your thoughts, feelings, relationships and improve critical thinking. It also allows you to become more self-aware and in touch with your inner self. It acts as a deterrent towards suppressing your emotions and ignoring them completely.

What’s more, it doesn’t have to be a specific topic. It could be random thoughts or an organized day-to-day routine; the choice is yours. So pick up that diary and write away!

6. Implement Work-Place Strategies in Your Schedule 

Get your employer to implement workplace strategies to combat compassion fatigue if they don’t already. You can use the ones mentioned below or come up with your own as part of your daily work schedule:

  • Support group discussions about compassion fatigue and its symptoms
  • Frequent breaks
  • Professional check-ups and therapy sessions
  • Mental health awareness days
  • Recreational rooms

7. Seek Professional Help 

When using positive coping mechanisms (such as meditation, long walks, nature hikes, or taking a vacation) and recharging your resiliency bar fails, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There is nothing wrong with seeking help when needed. If you feel vulnerable emotionally and physically, extremely stressed, and overwhelmed, consider making an appointment with a therapist.

A therapist can act as a non-judgmental listener, help you process the emotional baggage, and suggest strategies to combat compassion fatigue. If nothing else works, or even if everything else works, going to a therapist can be very beneficial and help you maintain order in your life.  


Compassion fatigue has emerged as a serious issue in the caregiver industry. Symptoms like weakness, exhaustion, and apathetic behavior are usually signs of compassion fatigue. However, you can prevent it by managing exposure to traumatic experiences of others, establishing a good work-life balance, maintaining an active lifestyle, and permanently committing to your mental health and needs.

So take care of yourself like you do others and replenish the assets that foster high-quality care of your patients—compassion, caring, dedication, resilience, and empathy.

Priyam Ghosh

Tech and Internet Writer

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