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Unconventional ways to relieve compassion fatigue


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If you’re feeling burned out or worn out, or just don’t have your head in the game anymore, you may be suffering from what is now recognized as compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a condition experienced by many healthcare providers across the spectrum of care. It can manifest with physical symptoms, such as migraines, muscle pain or abdominal pain. It can also have an emotional component and produce depression, anxiety and stress.

What makes compassion fatigue different, though, is the presence of spiritual distress. You just don’t care anymore, have become cynical and simply don’t see the point in trying. Fortunately, you can use a few unconventional methods to pull yourself out of this feeling. They are radical and require a new way of thinking, but they may help you get your spark back.

Zen’s the Word
When you are feeling spiritually empty, you may not know what to do about it. How do you reconnect with your spiritual roots and rise above your inability to feel compassion anymore?

As a Westerner, yoga, tai chi, meditation and martial arts may seem weird to you. Sitting for 20 minutes of meditation every morning may strike you as a big waste of already precious time. It isn’t. In fact, learning how to meditate can put you in touch with how you are feeling and help you find a solution. You can meditate to ease your depression and anxiety, but it will also help you realize that you ARE doing an important, necessary job. You gain some distance from yourself with these practices and can face life with much less cynicism.

Volunteer in a Big Way
Maybe you’re just tired of the hospital system. Maybe you’ve seen enough COPD, uncontrolled diabetes and drug-seeking patients. It’s understandable that you can feel like you aren’t helping anyone when you see the same thing day in and day out. Sometimes patients are not the most thankful, either, and this can make you feel unwanted.

Try volunteering. You could easily volunteer at your local senior center doing blood pressure screenings, but that’s unlikely to bust you out of this funk. Think about the Red Cross. Think about starving kids in Africa. As they say, go big or go home. If you really want to see how valuable you are, volunteer for people who truly need you and are grateful for your help. Even in your own city, you can find a free clinic where you can volunteer. Seeing that others truly need you can help you to recover spiritually and come to terms with your compassion fatigue.

What Color Are Your Scrubs?
Most of us feel like we are called to nursing. We know that it’s exactly what we want to do with our lives…but what if you don’t feel that way anymore? You need to sit down and discover what your talents are. Maybe you’re a painter at heart, perhaps a sculptor. Get in touch with your muse and find out what makes you truly happy. You need to figure out that one thing in your life that turns you on so strongly that you leap out of bed every morning excited to do it again.

For some people, this may be nursing. Write down why nursing makes you feel this way. As Mufasa said in The Lion King, “Remember who you are.” You need to search your mind and spirit to understand what you were really meant to do—and then pursue it. If the thing that gets you excited is not nursing, you have to turn from a dreamer into a doer.

Thank Another Nurse
If your heart feels empty, do something that fills another nurse’s heart with joy. We’re always griping that we’re never thanked enough. Be the change. Pick a coworker whom you admire for her hard work, wisecracking humor or just plain dedication. Write her a little note or just offer a few, simple words of acknowledgement: “Hey, you know, I gotta hand it to ya, you’re an awesome nurse. I’m glad you’re on my team!” Sometimes the best way to open your heart is to open your heart.

“Overcoming Compassion Fatigue” by John-Henry Pfifferling, PhD, and Kay Gilley, MS, Family Practice Magazine, April 2000;

Lynda Lampert
Lynda Lampert is a registered nurse and a certified third shift worker. She has worked with many different patient populations, including post-op open heart, post-op gastric bypass, active chest pain, congestive heart failure, poorly controlled diabetics and telemetry 'wonders'. She now focuses all of her effort on educating the populace -- both the nursing world and the normal folk -- through her web writing. She hopes one day to publish another romance novel, travel to England and become a web rock star. She feels she is on her way . . . mostly. You can learn more about Lynda and her work at

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