Care for the Caregivers: Compassion Fatigue During a Crisis
By: American Nurses Association
Wellness. Self-care. We hear these terms get used a lot, especially during times of crisis. We always say: “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” and “You can only give what you have.” In case of emergency, we hear pilots tell passengers to always put the mask on themselves first, because you cannot help anyone if you are not well yourself. But what does this really mean in practice?
In reality, these things are easier said than done. Nurses, especially, are constantly placed in conditions of “chronic self-sacrifice,” which ultimately impact their emotional, physical, and mental health. 1 One risk of this constant stress and emotional exhaustion is compassion fatigue.1 Unfortunately, compassion fatigue is the reality for many nurses and health care leaders. It happens to the best of us, and at its worst can lead to great nurses leaving the profession. So how can we prepare for and navigate this?
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Integrate well-being and resilience strategies into strategic planning.
The first step in managing compassion fatigue is to establish and implement strategies to prevent it. Putting in place a framework to not only assess the well-being of employees, but also to continuously address it as an ongoing priority is key to successfully mitigating this risk. One of the ways organizations can do this is by integrating well-being and resilience strategies into strategic planning.2 Nurses are working in unprecedented circumstances with little time to practice self-care and wellness activities. Incorporating opportunities for nurses and health care staff to address the emotional impact of their work can lead to a stronger practice environment and healthier culture.
With the enhanced focus on well-being, leaders need support, too. They need support from their organizations and their peers in order to assist colleagues in navigating these uncharted waters. Even the most experienced of nurses and highest-ranking leaders can experience compassion fatigue and burnout.
In the 2020 Pathway to Excellence® Manual we have enhanced the Well-Being Element of Performance (EOP), EOP 5.10, which requires organizations to “describe the strategy(ies) the organization has in place to address compassion fatigue experienced by the health care provider team, to include direct care nurses.”2 this EOP highlights the critical importance of considering health care provider well-being as part of strategic planning. It also acknowledges the prevalence of compassion fatigue, which has formerly been swept under the rug.
Here are more practical strategies you can use to build resilience in times of crisis.
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- Chelsia Harris, Mary T. Quinn Griffin. “Nursing on empty: Compassion fatigue signs, symptoms, and system interventions,” Journal of Christian Nursing 32 no. 2 (2015): 80-87. https://www.nursingcenter.com/cearticle?an=00005217-201504000-00008&Journal_ID=642167&Issue_ID=2772472
- American Nurses Credentialing Center [ANCC]. 2020 Pathway to Excellence & Pathway to Excellence in Long-Term Care Application Manual (Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Credentialing Center, 2020), 40.
- ANCC, 2020 Pathway to Excellence & Pathway to Excellence in Long-Term Care Application Manual,