Compassion and empathy are some of the most important things in nursing. It means a lot to patients. However, nurses are people too. Cases of burnout are frequent, especially in high-stress environments such as emergency care. It happens to anybody. Even the kindest nurses feel it after spending many months in a hospital setting surrounded by screaming, crying and capricious patients who often do not appreciate all the work done to help them. Although the causes of burnout are often external, a complete lack of self-care practices among the doctors and nurses contributes to its progression a great deal.
Self-Care Practices for Nurses
The scientific notion for burnout is Compassion Fatigue, and it can manifest in several ways:
- It affects a nurse’s work. The days at the hospital become gray and uneventful, with the only thing a nurse is looking forward to being weekends. The nurse stops showing the necessary amount of care and empathy. Abusing sick days is common.
- Health problems. The increasing amounts of stress can result in various illnesses, from problems with the digestive tract to lack of sleep.
- Psychological problems. Mood swings, cases of poor judgment, anger towards the patients and fellow colleagues are dangerous to a nurse, as they do not have the luxury of making mistakes in healthcare (Blum, 2014).
When researching the issue, I noticed that many articles are focusing on similar ways of preventing Compassion Fatigue. These measures usually revolve around several actions, such as:
- Making boundaries between home and work. When the line blurs between the two, the person cannon finds solace even after leaving the hospital. Enjoying personal time is much harder.
- Acknowledging the problem and being open to help. Burnout is a well-known issue among nurses, and there is nothing wrong with seeking help and informing your superiors about it, early.
- Being proactive. Burnout is something that could not be completely avoided, but recognizing the signs early on is important for effectively combating it (Blum, 2014).
My Experience – Week 1
I am familiar with Compassion Fatigue. I am also very conscious about my work. I cannot leave it at the hospital, and it often follows me home. It is a big issue for me, as I keep thinking about the patients, procedures, and illnesses that I would have to deal with tomorrow even as I eat or am about to sleep. For this assignment, I was tasked to spend 1 hour a week to do something I truly enjoy, to keep my mind away from work. I compiled a list of enjoyable activities and decided to try them all out, during the exercise – one every week. For this week, I chose to go outside and have a walk in the park. An article suggested that going to the park and becoming one with nature is a common practice of walking meditation, which should help me out (Clark, 2014).
As it turned out, this method did not help me much. Walking for an hour and breathing fresh air certainly had its effect on my overall physical state, as it is a healthy practice, but it did very little to ease my mind. I kept a conscious effort to keep the thoughts about work away, but whenever I let my mind wander, it seemed to return to reciting the names of patients I would have to attend to tomorrow. Not having a task to focus on seems to have such an effect, which is why it felt like a wasted effort. I made a note to try something else, next time around.
My Experience – Week 2
Mindful of my fiasco during the first week, I made sure to change my strategy. It was obvious that I do not have the capacity to keep my mind away from work when it has nothing else to do or to think about. I did not attempt any meditation, as it would likely have the same effects as my walk in the park – the concept is similar, and the issues would likely be the same. Instead, I practiced Yoga for an hour, in front of a TV set. This was another solution for stress, which I read about in a dedicated article (Sieg, 2010). The results were much better than I expected them to be.
I did not think about my work at all, during the exercise. My mind was focused on how my body felt during the workout, taking note of all the pains and stretches it felt during it. It is true that the pain focuses the mind. In addition, I had to watch the instructor and replicate what she did, to the best of my ability. This kept my brain occupied enough and prevented me from thinking about my work. The lingering aftereffect was that for several hours after I was able to focus my thoughts on other aspects of my life. It was a very enjoyable experience. I considered signing up for a Yoga class afterward. In addition to offering peace to one’s troubled mind, Yoga is a very healthy practice. It should keep me in a good physical condition.
My Experience – Week 3
Armed with the knowledge of what works for me and what does not I decided to experiment further. One of the articles dedicated to burnout and self-care for nurses suggested that socialization could be a good counter to compassion fatigue. It recommended several socialization outlets, such as the internet, face-to-face communication, and social media (Clark, 2014). I was mindful of internet addictions, so I chose not to get involved with Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. Instead, I thought that meeting healthy people that do not need my immediate attention would be a welcomed change of pace. I decided to reconnect with an old friend of mine whom I have not seen or talked to in years.
We met at the same park where I spent an hour during my first week of exercise. This was a very enlightening experience. I listened to my friend talk about her life, and I shared information about mine. The constant process of giving and receiving information kept my mind busy and prevented it from thinking about my work. In addition, it was fun to learn about the other person, and in the end, I regained a new friend. She calls me frequently now, and we agreed to meet like this in the future.
In addition, walking and breathing fresh air is good for my health, especially if it becomes a habit. I would recommend socializing to anyone who has trouble keeping one’s mind away from troubling thoughts about work. For several hours after, my mind was focused on thinking about how the meeting went, rather than about what awaits me back at the hospital.
My Experience – Week 4
This week was a bit different from the rest since I had a different issue to deal with. That day, I was very annoyed and angry with the patient who kept pestering and even insulting me while I was doing my job to help him. The sheer feeling of being underappreciated washed over me. Several nasty thoughts appeared in my head as well. Now that I look back at it with a clear head, I realize that it was wrong of me and that the ailing patient was not the source of my anger. The built-up stress was. Still, I looked for ways to relieve my anger. An article found on True Stress Management site suggested that playing video games is a good way to relieve stress since I would be able to channel my frustrations upon an imaginary foe in a video game (Keep calm and game on, 2016).
I played first-person shooters for about an hour. I had mixed results. On the one hand, it worked wonders for making me forget about my anger, as I managed to pour it all upon the hordes of Nazis as I stormed the Omaha Beach during the D-day. On the other hand, the game felt very addictive. The campaign was just starting, and I am certain that I would have spent more than one hour at it if I had that time. Use video games at your own risk – they are great at killing stress, but they could be very time-consuming as well. That hour I spent playing them went by very quickly.
The exercise proved to be a very enlightening experience for me. I discovered which methods of self-care and stress-relief work for me and which ones do not. I had plenty of enjoyable experiences along the way and managed to reconnect with an old friend. I am considering signing up for a Yoga class as a way to combat Compassion Fatigue. Avoiding burnout would help me improve my work and make me a better and healthy nurse.
Blum, C. (2014). Practicing self-care for nurses: A nursing program initiative. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 19(2), 133-146. Web.
Clark, C.S. (2014). Stress, Psychoneuroimmunology and self-care: What every nurse needs to know. Journal of Nursing and Care, 3(2), 1-7. Web.
Sieg, D. (2010). Yoga: A self-care option for patients. Web.