Compassion fatigue is a physical, mental and emotional drain suffered by those who care for others. Caregivers develop compassion fatigue by internalizing the suffering or trauma of those they care for. While the term compassion fatigue originated in the field of nursing in the early 90s, it applies broadly to anyone who is in a helping profession or is a caregiver.
Anyone can over use their compassion and empathy skills just as athletes can overuse their muscles and need to take a break from competition. Compassion fatigue isn’t the same as burnout, says the American Institute of Stress. Compassion fatigue can take months to years to develop and often the person affected does not immediately realize it. Co-workers or family members may notice some of these common symptoms:
- Loss of empathy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Upset stomach
The good news is that compassion fatigue can be treated through early recognition of symptoms and interventions including:
- Self-care for the caregiver. This includes making time for adequate eating, sleeping, exercising, and developing hobbies/ interests outside of caregiving
- Establishing regular periods of respite care for the patient
- Finding someone to talk to such as friend or a health professional, or through a support group
- Expressing thoughts and feelings on paper through journal writing
- Setting limits at work and home
Many of us in helping professions such as nursing, medicine, social work and counseling are at risk for compassion fatigue, as are family member caregivers who provide care beyond an 8 or 12 hour shift. Being self-aware and listening to our bodies is key in the early recognition of compassion fatigue. We cannot effectively care for others if we have not cared for ourselves first. We owe it to ourselves and those we care for to be at our best.
Take the next step:
- Learn more from the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.
- Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.
The Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.