To begin with, most health professionals experience Compassion Stress. This is the stress that comes from knowing about a patient’s trauma and wanting to help them. With the buildup of Compassion Stress lacking release, and depending on the severity of the trauma witnessed, Secondary Traumatic Stress can develop. Dr. Angelea Panos, an expert on the subject, says that Secondary Traumatic Stress is when professionals show “signs of PTSD that mirror those experienced by trauma clients, friends, or family members . . . many clinicians note that those who witness traumatic stress in others may develop symptoms similar to PTSD.” And as we all now know, PTSD is not something we should just sweep under the rug. It affects how a person functions, and can spill over into every area of his/her life.
In addition, a high amount of Compassion Stress can lead to burnout and even Compassion Fatigue. Francoise Mathieu (M.Ed., CCC) defines Compassion Fatigue this way: “It is characterized by deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones and their co-workers. It is marked by increased cynicism at work, a loss of enjoyment of our career, and eventually can transform into depression, secondary stress and stress-related illnesses. The most insidious aspect of compassion fatigue is that it attacks the very core of what brought us into this work: our empathy and compassion for others.”
As NICU survivors, we at Eli’s Hope are forever grateful for the care and compassion that was shown to us by the many healthcare workers we encountered at the beginning of our journey. But in all honesty, we never considered that our situation might also be causing trauma and stress in their lives. So today we want to express our concern for healthcare workers everywhere, but especially those in the NICU. If you work in the NICU, please take some time to evaluate where you are emotionally. As mentioned in our World Prematurity Day blog (11/17/13), a PTSD self-evaluation can be found here: http://healmyptsd.com/education/do-i-have-ptsd. In addition, please take a look at the following symptoms (not all-inclusive) of Compassion Fatigue to see if you may be suffering from it:
· Reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy
· Anger, irritability
· Dread of working with certain patients
· Diminished sense of enjoyment of career
· Heightened anxiety, irrational fears
· Hyper sensitivity or Insensitivity to emotional material
· Difficulty separating work life from personal life
· Absenteeism (missing work, taking many sick days)
· Impaired ability to make decisions and care for patients
Compassion Fatigue requires intentional self-care. Some self-care actions include exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, not over-extending yourself, and developing a healthy support system through friends, family, your church, or even counseling. Secondary Traumatic Stress (PTSD symptoms) may require further intervention. We encourage you to reach out and get the help you need to live a healthy and fulfilling life. We care about you! And we want you to be able to give your best to every patient and family you encounter.
Because this may be a new concept for some, please feel free to share this information and pass the word on. And visit www.compassionfatigue.org to find out more.
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water and without getting wet.” (Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen)