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Compassion Fatigue: Symptoms & Treatments

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

In this lesson, we are going to look at a condition affecting many healthcare professionals. Information about the symptoms and treatments associated with compassion fatigue will be covered.

Understanding Compassion Fatigue

You have enjoyed being a nurse for many years. There are many people that you have had the pleasure of meeting and helping. Few things in life give you more pleasure than knowing that you helped to save someone's life and made a positive impact. You have also had the unfortunate experience of losing a patient as well as watching a patient die slowly. It seems that it is affecting you more and more each time it happens.

A fellow nurse, Linda, notices that you are not the same upbeat person you were when you first entered the healthcare field. Actually, there are more days than not in the last couple of months that you are irritated and appear not to care. Linda mentions that you might be experiencing compassion fatigue, a condition that develops from being exposed to highly emotional and stressful situations during the process of caring for others. The constant focus on making other people's lives better and lack of taking care of yourself essentially drains you and converts your positive mindset and energy into negative thoughts and energy.

Symptoms

Physical and Mental Symptoms

Linda points out some of the physical symptoms that you are displaying. Your appearance has gone downhill. It is almost as if you have let yourself go. You are not keeping up your personal hygiene like you used to.

Another noticeable symptom is that you have started to isolate yourself from your coworkers. You were once the person that everyone wanted to talk to, and now you hardly say anything to anyone.

When you do speak to others, you display another symptom--negative speaking. This comes out as constant complaining, fussing about what other people are doing or not doing, and hopeless comments.

Linda also points out that you have been complaining about your health deteriorating. The number of times you have complained about your stomach or some other part of your body hurting has steadily increased. This could actually be a result of the next symptom you are showing.

You have become more impulsive in your daily life, and you are doing things on a whim and without much thought, which is not like you. Some of these things include binge eating, excessive shopping, and some risky sexual escapades that border sexual abuse.

Linda states that another symptom is having bad dreams or daydreaming about past traumatic events. It is almost like your brain is not able to get past the traumatic things that you have seen or been a part of, such as patients coming into the hospital after being shot, stabbed, or badly injured in car accidents.

Emotional Symptoms

The constant exposure to such traumas has forced you to stop being as empathetic as you once were. Now, you are almost the complete opposite--apathetic. This is definitely a telltale sign of compassion fatigue.

Your patients are not the only thing that you have stopped caring about. You care about very little in the world, period. Linda says she has not heard you talk about shooting pool the way you used to, and then you realize that you don't even care to do that anymore. You don't seem to care about doing much of anything anymore, really.

Since you are not interacting much with other people, you have another symptom of compassion fatigue. You have kept your emotions to yourself for so long now that they have built up inside of you. You are not even sure how to let your emotions out anymore.

Many people have also commented on the fact that you seem to be drinking alcohol a whole lot more. This is part of the symptom of substance abuse. You are abusing alcohol, but it easily could have been prescription drugs, nicotine, or illegal drugs. People with compassion fatigue tend to do this to hide the emotions that they do not want or know how to deal with.

Treatments

Linda says she has found ways for your compassion fatigue to be treated. As she begins to share what she has found with you, you both realize that recognizing that a problem exists is the first step towards recovering. The treatments for compassion fatigue center on you taking care of yourself. This makes sense considering that the condition devleops from constantly caring about others while spending very little time on yourself.

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