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Combating Compassion Fatigue

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A lot of care, given to patients, can be hurting to caregivers. When caregivers turn their focus on other people without practicing self-care, disparaging behaviors can result. Loneliness, apathy, substance abuse and bottled up emotions are among the many symptoms, linked with the secondary shocking stress disorder, now referred to as compassion fatigue.  It is obvious that compassion fatigue causes suffering and pain. All the same, learning to identify and deal with the symptoms of compassion fatigue is the first move towards healing (Chen et al., 2009). Caregivers need to be aware of real, sustainable self-care and help organizations in their objective of offering compassionate and healthy care to the people being served.

There are quite a number of warning signs for the concepts of compassion fatigue. Undoubtedly, there comes a time, when there are thoughts coming repeatedly into the head and becoming difficult to put them out (Bush, 2009). There is a feeling of irritation and boredom. These are some of the behavioral signs. Nevertheless, there is possibly the absence of a feeling about the satisfaction of the work a person does. There is a feeling that such satisfaction is not there and that it is not in balance. There appears to be no correlation between the energy put out and the benefits, coming as a result.  The following can be regarded as the major concepts of compassion fatigue: Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), burnout, emotional contagion, vicarious traumatization and traumatic counter-transference.

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is the most parallel concept to compassion fatigue and can be used to define it. STS is basically a set of emotional and psychological factors through a specific occurrence or a series of occurrences, affecting the caregivers indirectly. While STS is assisting an individual in harm’s way, primary traumatic stress takes place, when a person is in harm’s way. STS is nearly similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), even though PTSD usually takes place, when an individual is directly traumatized. For caregivers coming back from a warfare surrounding, the threat of individual harm and exposure to injury for others shows connection to PTSD.

Burnout, on the other hand, is also another concept of compassion fatigue. Burnout can be defined as the state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that is a result of lasting involvement in situations that are very much demanding on emotional matters.  All the same, burnout of the healthcare professionals is basically a consequence of low morale, high turnover of job, job stress and absenteeism (Gupta & Woodman, 2010).

There are also other three concepts, linked to compassion fatigue: emotional contagion, vicarious traumatization and traumatic counter-transference. Usually, these concepts, as mentioned here, involve the psychotherapy of the victims and the therapists as well. Emotional contagion is a very successful process, through which a person, making observation over another individual, encounters emotional reactions that are parallel to the anticipated or actual emotions of the person. Vicarious traumatization and traumatic counter-transference can be defined as the transformation of the inner experience of the therapist, emerging from empathetic involvement with the trauma material of the client (Program to combat 'compassion fatigue', 2010).

Most of these different concepts have been used interchangeably in literature. The common connection of these concepts is in the sense that, working with victims or trauma patients impressively affects the emotional welfare of the healthcare practitioners, nurses and therapists.  The slight differences are realized in the manner, through which the impacts of working with a traumatized person end up in either direct or indirect distress emotionally on the part of the caregiver.  Generally, compassion fatigue is taken as a more natural outcome of emotional fallout from caregivers, offering close care to the patient (Bush, 2009). Compassion fatigue is acute and almost sudden. One important thing to know is the fact that burnout is a steady wearing down of the healthcare practitioners, coupled with lack of job satisfaction.

Even though the burnout concept is different from compassion fatigue, it could be a risk factor and, in a real sense, the precursor to compassion fatigue (Espeland, 2006).  Two responses can be expected from a group of caregivers, concerning whether they love their job or not. Suppose the answer turns out to be a ‘NO,’ then, it is most likely that the care giver is anguishing with burnout. On the contrary, if the answer is ‘YES,’ then, the caregiver is more prone to be undergoing compassion fatigue.

There are quite a number of warning signs for healthcare practitioners, concerning self-auditing that they can work out to monitor compassion fatigue (Bush, 2009). One of the symptoms is an instance, where an individual keeps hearing and seeing the things that have been told to them. They always focus on a specific problem of the patient. Therefore, the warning signs would be that the caregivers are laying a lot of focus on this and that they are not doing what they are supposed to do in other areas and they do not feel any satisfaction out of it.  In the event that caregivers do not experience any satisfaction in what they do, it would be important for them to use a checklist to monitor their work, rather than merely having these thoughts (Chen et al., 2009).

The caregiver is supposed to attend to his or her physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. This is aimed at ensuring high quality services to the people, looking up to them for healthcare support as a human being. The physical needs of the caregiver include a good diet, fighting fatigue, exercise and time to relax. Most times, the caregiver may forget to eat but should always try to find good time and eat. The caregiver also needs a lot of exercise. This helps in lowering blood pressure and easing any anxiety and depression. It also decreases mental and physical tension.  Exercise helps to ease the mind, take a break from dealing with the patient and at the same time stay in shape to promote good health. Exercises are needed to deal with overwhelming situations. Relaxation is also needed in reducing emotional and physical stress that comes along with caregiving. The caregiver, therefore, needs calmness, rest and ability to deal with life stresses (Program to combat 'compassion fatigue', 2010).

With a lot of attention, focused on the patient, the caregiver may emotionally feel less important and invisible (Ekedahl and Wengström, 2008). This comes along with such needs like anxiety, guilt, sadness, grief and frustration that need to be addressed. While the caregiver administers his or her role, spiritual needs such as wanting to know why God has allowed such an ailment,  making the best effort out of the situation and keeping the faith are also evident. The care giver also needs social support, maintaining his or her life and enjoying what he or she is doing.      

Based on the needs above, there are coping strategies and resources that can really be useful to the caregiver. For physical needs, caffeine should be avoided but a lot of water be taken instead. At least three balanced meals should be taken as well. A doctor’s advice on exercise will also be good, while the care giver can choose the best exercise to do. Listening to caregiver’s music choice can also help. Reading books, getting a massage and taking some day to relax would be useful to the caregiver. The caregiver can be open-minded and share out the challenges, while showing an appreciation of family support and from other close associates (Espeland, 2006). Getting at least six hours of sleep during the night is useful in fighting fatigue to maintain good physical and emotional wellbeing (Chen et al., 2009). It would also be important on matters of spirituality for the caregiver to keep praying and meditating together with practicing spiritual rituals. Attending religious services and talking to a spiritual figure can really help the caregiver in dealing with compassion fatigue. 

 

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