There’s a lot of talk in nursing, and in the literature about “compassion fatigue.” A Google search for the keywords “compassion fatigue in nurses” and came up with 46,700 links…46,000! You’d think that all nurses are suffering from burnout, which can’t be possible…or, is it?!
You’ve been there, your umpteenth patient has walked out the door, and you've said, “why the hell am I still here?!”
Albert Einstein once wrote:
A human being is a part of the whole called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, his feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody’s able to achieve this completely, but striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
The notion that compassion can cause fatigue gives us cause to pause. Can compassion really lead to fatigue, can caring so much for another cause burnout? Or, is it a matter of not caring for ourselves, or not realising that within each of us there is a wellspring of compassion, unlimited by the duration that we serve others, or by the amount of suffering that we witness.
Why do we feel that to be compassionate has to take its toll, rather than lift us up? Is there something that missing when we feel burned out after caring for another, something that we're doing, or some way that we're being that is preventing us from feeling uplifted by what we're doing?
There’s actually plenty of evidence that shows the contrary, that helping others can actually make us happier. And research into practitioners who use compassion meditation techniques has shown that we can actually modify the neural (brain) pathways that control our emotions.
So, how do we get from here to there? Here's a simple list of things you can do to maintain a compassionate presence at the bedside:
- caring for ourselves as we would care for others,
- remembering that others wish to be happy and avoid suffering,
- remembering that thoughts and emotions are impermanent,
- remembering our connection to others,
- practicing self-forgiveness.
Don't forget to also look after yourself physically! Take your breaks, eat well and wear comfortable clothing. That includes your On Trend Compression knee high socks :-)