Combating Compassion Fatigue

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Compassion fatigue or burnout is a specific problem caregiver usually deal with. Such a problem cannot be called stress as it is not a simple depression. The caregivers that deal with seriously ill people usually face the problem of compassion fatigue when they become indifferent to human pain. This is a very serious issue as dealing with patients, nurses and other specialists are to feel sympathy to those who they treat. Of course, professional qualities are to dominate, however, it is impossible to remain careless to those who suffer. Compassion fatigue is a stress disorder that appears as a result of the curative treatment of people with diseases that require much sympathy and attention. People who do not feel sympathy for those who they treat are not to be considered cruel, they just need help as compassion fatigue is a disease that has specific signs, causes and effects and which requires specific treatment.

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Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue

Speaking about the warning signs of compassion fatigue, it should be remembered that various people react differently in the same situations, therefore, the signs of compassion fatigue are various as well. The most visible signs of compassion fatigue are negative emotions. When a person is irritated and has a bad mood it does not mean that he/she is to be diagnosed with compassion fatigue. However, when a caregiver constantly remains in a bad mood, when negative emotions constantly support him/her, and when “frustration, anger, depression, feeling stuck, feeling paralyzed, irritability toward coworkers and clients, cynicism, bitterness, and being negative about self, others, and the world in general” (Espeland, 2006, p. 180) become constant supporters, the measures are to be taken.

Bush (2009) presents a live example of behavior people may experience. First, a person becomes irritated, then, he/she appears in a bad mood constantly thinking about a patient. Waking up at night with the inability to do anything becomes a usual procedure. Then, a person is able to feel a pain of a patient, he/she does not only see nightmares but he/she is also able to experience these feelings in real life. Such feelings support a person every day, he/she feels guilty as nothing can be done. Such feelings depress a caregiver and as a result, he/she is unable to perform required tasks.

The Nature of the Problems and Their Causes

Speaking about the nature of the problems nurses have when dealing with patients and the causes of these problems, it is essential to speak about stressors. The main stressors, according to Gupta and Woodman (2010) are as follows, “being short-staffed, increased expectations and demands”, “increased complexity and numbers of referrals”, “increased numbers of deaths”, “too many meetings and not having enough time for administrative tasks”, “job sharing, extra roles and being on call”, “being reactive, not proactive, crisis-driven, short deadlines and the lack of a waiting list”, “no time to build relationships with families and no time to follow up issues”, and “staff communication problems including not being heard and feeling unsupported” (p. 16). These are the main reasons why people become irritated and which lead to stress. Stressful situations are very common in the modern nursing sphere and under such circumstances, compassion fatigue develops faster and with greater scope.

The main outcome of compassion fatigue is the lowering of the quality of the performed work. A caregiver is unable to work with patients. Having an intention to encourage patients, to give them hope and trying to do all possible to cope with the problem, a caregiver with compassion fatigue is unable to do anything. Thus, a patient does not treat at al. He/she may be even caused harm as in many cases absence of assistance may result in patient complications and even death. The problems also appear when staff does not notice the problem on time and does not react. Staff should be responsible, otherwise irreversible effects may become.

Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Needs of the Caregiver

Job satisfaction is one of the main needs of caregivers. People are to be satisfied with what they do, otherwise, all the negative aspects of the job are considered. It is important to remember that when a person is satisfied with what he/she does many negative peculiarities of the job are considered as the slightest complications which do not affect job quality (Chen, Lin, Wang, & Hou, 2009). Being satisfied with a job is expressed via the emotional needs of a caregiver as in this case a person is emotionally comforted. It is essential for serving others as being positively directed, such emotions and desires are shared with patients. Turning to the discussion of physical needs, it is essential to speak about the staff timeline. People are to have an opportunity to have a good sleep. The geographical location of the patients should not be too spread as well as caregivers experience real stress when they have to go from one part of the city to another one. Being physically tired caregivers do not have a desire to treat people creatively, to apply innovative strategies and to use their knowledge in assisting patients. Everything they need is to have a good rest. Speaking about spiritual needs, it is obvious that caregivers work better with those with who they sympathize. Of course, caregivers are to be free from various types of biases however, it is uncomfortable to work with those who do not make those feel good.

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Examples of Coping Strategies

There are several strategies that may be useful for those who have faced the problem of compassion fatigue. First, caregivers are to do something pleasant for themselves during the day. No matter how they are busy, it is important to find several minutes and to enjoy oneself at least with something, for example, “It might be as simple as meeting a buddy at a restaurant and having a cup of coffee, or taking a long walk when I get home. Once a week I plan something big so I can look forward to it. That’s how simple it is” (Program to combat ‘compassion fatigue, 2010). Espeland (2006) offers other measures to apply to in order to overcome compassion fatigue, such as to revitalize personal career, avoid any manipulation from the side of patients, create specific boundaries between working time and private life, to change ideas directed at the positive result, and to avoid negative communication even with hopeless patients. Some caregivers may start blaming themselves for a patient’s inability to recover. It is important to cope with this feeling as this is not a caregiver’s fault. Moreover, each nurse is to create a plan for professional growth which is going to stimulate and do not give time for negative thoughts. The development of a positive relationship with colleagues is important as well as their support and general positive environment in the workplace place affectively (Espeland, 2006).

Gupta and Woodman (2010) offer other strategies for coping with compassion fatigue. Fewer meetings, reorganization of caseloads, discharge “families from the active caseloads list if they were receiving no input or were ready for transition” (p. 16), implementation of some particular administration changes which allowed nurses to feel better are considered as some strategies for reducing the compassion fatigue and making sure that these cases are reduced in the future. One of the main requirements expressed by Gupta and Woodman (2010) which is to be referred to the strategies mentioned above is a regular application to these strategies. It is important to make sure that all the strategies are regularly conducted and that nurses follow them. Ekedahl and Wengström (2008) are sure that preserving, reconstructive and evaluating coping strategies are the most effective ones. Even dealing with cancer patients where the level of death is too high and the rate of recovery is too low, people are able to cope with compassion fatigue.


Therefore, it should be concluded that compassion fatigue is a very serious problem. It is important to keep in mind that working with patients who have serious problems and their health is too bad, caregivers should differentiate between work and private life as if caregivers will bring the problems from their work home they will not be able to have a good rest which may result in compassion fatigue and deep depression.


Bush, N. (2009). Compassion fatigue are you at risk?. Oncology Nursing Forum, 36(1), 24-28.

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Chen, C., Lin, C., Wang, S., & Hou, T. (2009). A study of job stress, stress coping strategies, and job satisfaction for nurses working in middle-level hospital operating rooms. Journal of Nursing Research (Taiwan Nurses Association), 17(3), 199-211.

Ekedahl, M., & Wengström, Y. (2008). Coping processes in a multidisciplinary healthcare team — a comparison of nurses in cancer care and hospital chaplains. European Journal of Cancer Care, 17(1), 42-48.

Espeland, K. (2006). Overcoming burnout: how to revitalize your career. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 37(4), 178-184.

Gupta, V., & Woodman, C. (2010). Managing stress in a palliative care team. Paediatric Nursing, 22(10), 14-18.

Program to combat ‘compassion fatigue’. (2010). Hospice Management Advisor, 15(9), 102-103.

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"Combating Compassion Fatigue." PsychologyWriting, 1 May 2022,


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Combating Compassion Fatigue'. 1 May.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Combating Compassion Fatigue." May 1, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Combating Compassion Fatigue." May 1, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "Combating Compassion Fatigue." May 1, 2022.