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Coping With Compassion Fatigue in Caregivers


This paper is aimed at discussing the condition which is known as the compassion fatigue. This term is used to refer to the detrimental effects of continuous exposure to the suffering of other people. These emotional problems are particularly relevant if one speaks about professionals who work as caregivers, for instance, one can mention nurses or physicians (Bush, 2009; Matzo, 2014).

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Much attention should be paid to the main elements of this disorder and its main symptoms such as vicarious traumatization and stress (Matzo, 2014). Overall, one can say that people, who are affected by compassion fatigue, should focus on the coping strategies that can enable them avoid such risks as depression, continuous feeling of anxiety, and desensitization which are the main effects of this condition.

It is possible to argue that compassion fatigue can be best overcome, provided that a person can derive positive emotions from the communication with other people. This is the main thesis that should be discussed more closely.

Warning signs

There are several important concepts that are associated with compassion fatigue. For instance, one can speak about such a term as vicarious traumatization. Overall, it can be described as the strong association of a caregiver with a person who encounters hardships. For instance, medical workers tend to relive the experiences of other patients.

Caregivers should pay attention to such symptoms as mood swings, irritability, and depression because they can be the mark of such traumas, and with time passing these symptoms can become even worse. Moreover, these people are more vulnerable to various stressors such as the changes in the work environment.

Additionally, it is important to examine such a notion as burnout which can be described as the feeling of exhaustion and lack of commitment. Very often, burnout accompanies compassion fatigue. Sometimes, this behavior can be observed among people who work in various medical settings.

The main symptoms of burnout include decreased productivity, cognitive impairment, and continuous feeling of frustration that does not have distinct origins (Espeland, 2006, p. 180). As a rule, such people quickly become dissatisfied with their work. Moreover, they can come into conflicts with their colleagues. Sometimes, this behavior can be the sign of compassion fatigue.

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Furthermore, compassion fatigue includes perceptual problems. In particular, such individuals are overwhelmed with the feeling of incompetence which is not justified in any way (Bush, 2009, p. 24). Their self-esteem is usually very low. Moreover, these people can be overwhelmed by the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that can eventually transform into depression.

Apart from that, one should be speak about the declining ability of a person to feel compassion for the needs of other people. This behavior can also be called desensitization. As a rule, this symptom of this disorder manifests itself if compassion fatigue passes to an advanced stage.

This desensitization can affect various caregivers who may sometimes become indifferent of patients’ problems. One should keep in mind that in many cases, this lack of sensitivity can be a form of protection against stress. Under such circumstances, caregivers should immediately seek professional assistance.

Finally, compassion fatigue is associated with stress. There are several symptoms that should be considered; for instance, such people can regularly have nightmares. Additionally, they can overreact even to minor problems that do not always merit much attention. It is possible to argue that compassion fatigue can develop according to different patterns. Caregivers should be able to recognize the possible symptoms of this mental disorder at early stages.

The nature of the problems and their causes

Overall, the problems that have been identified in the previous section can be attributed to various causes. At first, one should speak about the inability of a person to establish emotional boundaries between oneself and the patient (Bush, 2009, p. 29). It should be mentioned that in some cases, caregivers consider patients as a part of their own family. This is why the suffering of other people produces a stronger impression on them.

This tendency is more widespread among nurses or physicians who support patients with terminal illnesses. This phenomenon is often described as emotional engagement which means that sometimes a person places oneself in the position of people who experience suffering. This is one of the main pitfalls that should be avoided because it can produce disastrous effects on the inner world of a person. Such individuals can harm themselves as well as other people, especially their relatives and friends.

Moreover, some individuals are more susceptible to stress. Moreover, the effects of compassion fatigue can be seriously aggravated by such factors as work overload. Moreover, one should speak about the lack of support from the management (Chen et al., 2009). Therefore, it is possible to say the effects of compassion fatigue can be mitigated, if a person can receive the assistance from other people, especially relatives, friends, and colleagues (Chen et al., 2009). So, other people should be able to recognize deviations in the behavior of caregivers.

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Needs of the care-giver

There are several emotional needs of the caregiver. This person should mark the boundary between one’s own feelings and the feelings of a patient. The most important task of this individual is to make sure that the suffering of other people does not become a part of their own identity (Ekedah & Wengström, 2008).

Additionally, they require such emotions as excitement and confidence because they reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and depression. Moreover, such individuals usually strive for hope which is important for their professional commitment and social relations. Emotional needs of caregivers should be considered by their relatives, friends, and professional counselors.

Additionally, one should focus on the physical needs of caregivers. These people should avoid the risk of sleep deprivation because it eventually leads to exhaustion, irritability, and depression. Apart from that, it is critical to remember about healthy eating habits they enable to overcome the effects of stress and work overload. Moreover, physical exercises can also be critical for such individuals because such activities can distract them from various emotional problems that can turn into obsession.

Finally, it is critical to remember about the spiritual needs of such individuals. For instance, caregivers should feel the love of people who are most dear to them. To a great extent, this experience can be vital for people who are continuously exposed to stress. Additionally, these people should not overlook the importance of faith because it can help them retain optimism. These are the main details that can be distinguished.

Coping strategies

It is possible to distinguish several techniques that can help people suffering from compassion fatigue. For instance, one can speak about the so-called caritas oblivion (Ekedah & Wengström, 2008, p. 46). This means that nurses learn to forget the names of patients who died under the care Ekedah & Wengström, 2008, p. 46).

This method helps a person minimize the effect of stress. Apart from that, much attention should be paid to the demarcation strategies. In other words, caregivers remind themselves that their problems of their patients are not their own. This coping strategy should not be confused with callousness. More likely, this method ensures objective perception of reality. This is why this technique should not be dismissed by various professionals.

Apart from that, these people should acquire new hobbies that can help them distract from depressing thoughts. Moreover, regular physical exercises can alleviate the effects of compassion fatigue. Finally, they should regularly communicate with their friends. In some cases, these people should pay more attention to the experiences of their relatives because these issues can reduce the effects of stress. These methods can help caregivers retain their commitment and avoid emotional problems at the same time.


Overall, these examples indicate that compassion fatigue is a common problem encountered by many people who act as caregivers. In many cases, these people have to deal with such problems as depression, anxiety, irritation, and so forth. Ability to use different coping strategies is essential for the emotional resilience of caregivers.

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They need to avoid the dangers of emotional engagement that can harm the inner world of a person. Sometimes, they need to seek professional assistance, if their mental problems pose a threat to other people. These are the main arguments that can be advanced.

Reference List

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

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-levelhospital operating rooms. Journal of Nursing Research, 17(3), 199-211.

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

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

Matzo, M. (2014). Palliative Care Nursing, Fourth Edition: Quality Care to the End of Life. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

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