Advice

7 Helpful Tips against Compassion Fatigue for CNAs

Joy Milner
|
September 7, 2021
Photo by Anh Nguyen.

Previously we discussed the top 5 qualities of CNAs, two of which are compassion and patience. And while both traits are absolutely essential characteristics of CNAs, it can become mentally tiring to pack your patience and compassion every day for work, especially when some patients may not seem grateful or may not be getting better.  Burnout can occur, and if we’re being honest, it’s one of the top reasons for high absenteeism, high turnover, and low retention rates within the field. The best way to prevent this is to prepare.

What is compassion fatigue?

The primary reason I hear aspiring CNAs say when asked why they want to pursue medicine is simple: they like helping people.  It’s one of the reasons why I became a CNA myself. Selflessness and altruism are admirable qualities to have, but they can also make a person more at risk of ignoring their own personal needs and well-being for the sake of helping others.  This is dangerous, and can quickly lead to feelings of frustration, fatigue, and even depression associated with your job.  That feeling is known as compassion fatigue.  It’s the physical, mental, and emotional toll of caring for others without checking on yourself. It’s the feeling of “going through the motions” without having the same satisfaction you once held when you started the job.  Consequently, it’s the feeling of being overwhelmed, numb, or impatient to your patient’s needs---consciously or unconsciously.

While all this may be unintentional, compassion fatigue can impact your ability to care for your patients and, when left unchecked, may even bleed into your relationships with family, friends, and other loved ones.  You might experience lower tolerance for others by getting easily angry or annoyed.  You might feel disconnected from yourself or your relationships.  The excitement you once felt for helping others might turn into dread of going to work.  The good news is, it definitely doesn’t have to be the case!

How do I treat compassion fatigue...better yet, how do I prevent it?

If you notice yourself developing compassion fatigue, there are many things you can do to turn things around, and even prevent it from happening again in the future.  Here are some tips that may help:

  • Prioritize yourself. Despite what others may want us to believe, work doesn’t have to be the center of everything.  It’s not your sole responsibility to keep everything running smoothly. You’re not obligated to take those extra shifts.  Yes, you need to do what’s necessary to make sure that you and your family are taken care of. But once you’ve done your best, you can’t stress about the rest. I guarantee you that your job is not stressing over you.
  • Take care of your body. It’s cliche, but true: you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you want to be able to give your best, you have to ensure that you take the time to eat healthily, exercise, sleep, rest, and refill yourself. We know you’re dedicated, but even the strong get tired. And pushing it off until a “better” time doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself---and not just in the long run either. You’ll see the effects immediately.
  • Journal. Write down the positives and the negatives. Keep track of patterns of events that might trigger additional frustration, but also express gratitude for the things you can do and get to experience. Reflect on the impact you’ve had in someone’s life. It may be important for you to even reframe your perspective. Think about your original “why” for getting into healthcare.
  • Reevaluate your needs. Your preferred work environment, your desired career path, your required support system, your favored work or team environment---these are all factors that matter. Don’t be afraid to ask for them or seek them out.  If something is no longer working, identify it, then establish a realistic plan to make a change.
  • Talk to someone. Of course you need to be cognizant of HIPAA, but when you need to, talk to your friends, family, coworkers, supervisors, even a therapist. There’s someone who wants to listen and will understand.  You’re not the only one who has ever felt this way.
  • Set boundaries. No isn’t always negative. In fact, learning to say no can be freeing. It doesn’t mean that you are any less compassionate. It means, however, that you’ve learned not to carry the entire world on your back.  It’s essential that you take the time to set boundaries with patients and their families, as well as your employer. It’s easy to get wrapped up in patients’ lives or misled to believe that you owe your job everything.  The reality is, you come to work to do a job. While you’re there, you do it to the best of your ability, but when you’re done, it’s perfectly healthy for you to leave work on the job.
  • Above all, listen to yourself. You know your body best, so make the time to listen to it.  That gut feeling you have telling you to slow down, reevaluate, or take a break knows a thing or two. Because the reality is, if you don’t listen to your body, your body will make you listen!

With your mental toolkit prepped, you should be ready to take on the world!  It’s not scary if you make time when you need to and listen to yourself!  Fatigue happens to the best of us, but how you handle it is what makes all the difference.

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