Beating Compassion and Chronic Stress: A Guide for Nurses


Nurses have one of the most important jobs out there, but the importance of their job can actually be a double-edged sword. You feel fulfilled, and like you are contributing towards a better, brighter future. At the same time, it can feel like the world is on your shoulders or at least every life that is under your charge. 

It is no wonder that, between overworking, the stress of the job, and also now the pandemic, nurses are experiencing record levels of stress and anxiety. 

If you loved your job as a nurse beforehand, then don’t let the struggles of the pandemic make you quit. Instead, re-evaluate where you work, how you live, and a variety of other factors that will and do play a big part in your daily quality of life. With the right approach, you can beat both compassion and chronic fatigue and use those same tips and tricks to help you thrive at work or in your further studies. 

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is common amongst those who care for others. This could be a great friend who is helping someone with advanced emotional or mental health needs. It could be a parent helping care for their sick or dying child. Being there for someone and providing care and compassion make a huge difference – but they can also take their toll. Compassion fatigue is worse amongst medical staff, who will regularly see death from a variety of causes, especially in instances where patients died despite their best efforts. 

Staying optimistic and positive can be, again, great for your patients, but it can be hard and even difficult to feel, much less fake, for nurses. Compassion fatigue is a chronic issue, and having the right emotional and mental health support, especially from those who understand or who are compassionate towards your case, can make a huge difference. 

What is Chronic Stress? 

Chronic stress can be extremely debilitating, and it is unfortunately all too common amongst nurses. Nurses, after all, are not only part of long shifts; their jobs can be incredibly stressful. The consequences of doing a bad job aren’t just a reprimand from your supervisor on an email; it could be someone’s life. This is a huge amount of responsibility to take on for anyone, and yet nurses will do this each and every day. 

Not every nursing role has stakes this high, but it is also an, unfortunately, risk when your job is human health. 

If you feel like you are constantly fatigued, or stressed, or any similar condition, then getting professional help, changing up your working environment and what you do as a nurse, and building the necessary support system (from friends to your routine), you can feel better. 

How to Beat Compassion and Chronic Stress 

Compassion fatigue and chronic stress are not your default, and yet they can feel that way when your body simply does not have the means to manage your stress levels in a healthy way. Consider it like this: when you are tired, you are more irritable. You have less ability to regulate your emotions, and therefore you actually have a shorter fuse than normal. You may become angry, impatient, annoyed, or frustrated faster and without the ability to cool off like you normally would.  The same applies when that fatigue plagues you on an ongoing basis. In fact, it gets worse the longer it goes on, as your immune system and body struggle and suffers. 

  1. Your Diet 

It isn’t about how much you eat, but what you eat. If you find that it is a lack of time and energy that is holding you back from enjoying healthy meals, then look away from the frozen or ready-meal sections at your local grocery store and instead look online. There are many small businesses that will likely cover your area and provide meal prep options that are far healthier than anything you will find in stock in the grocery store. Not only can you eat better by opting for meal plans you can find online, but you can also enjoy a greater variety. 

Relying solely on these meal plans can have its drawbacks. A good compromise is to use these meal plans as a backup option. Your primary choice should be personal prepped meals that you can either easily reheat or quickly put together at home. Prep on a day off and also get the help of friends or family, and you can make it easier to fuel your body with what it needs to successfully manage stress and compassion fatigue better. 

  1. Your Sleep Schedule 

Sleep is also another huge contributor to how well you can handle and manage stress. If you have a consistent work routine, then make your sleeping routine consistent as well. Other tips for nurses specifically,  include using blackout blinds, white noise machines, and upgrading your sheets. It’s also a good idea to have a look at the temperature of your room. The most comfortable temperature to sleep in is approximately 65F, give or take a few degrees. Choosing the right sheets to keep you either warm or cool will also make a big difference in your quality of sleep. 

  1. Your Support Network 

You need a support network. Everyone has one in the form of their friends and family, but don’t stop there. From professional to hobby networks, there are a variety of ways that you can lessen the burden of support off any one group and feel better for it. 

Tips for When You Are Working and Studying 

The aforementioned health and wellness tips and tricks are universal, but when you are tackling to massive responsibilities at once, even those may not be enough – and that’s okay. The demand on nurses and nursing as a whole right now is intense, but at the same time, you shouldn’t have to wait until the pandemic is over before committing to your personal goals. You can work and study at the same time, so long as you choose the right program and prepare your routine and expectations. 

  1. Find the Right Program 

The right program will make all the difference. Some programs are designed to be committed to full-time; others are designed to support you while you continue to work. Everyone knows how important nurses are, especially right now, and making it impossible to juggle the life-saving work you do, and your education is not in anyone’s interest. 

That being said, you still owe it to yourself to find and choose the right program for your goals and needs. Finding the best online BSN to FNP program is more than just looking at the university stats but also at the features and levels of support that you are offered. From integrated clinical service placement services to your very own student success coach or student advisor, there are a variety of ways that universities can provide the extra support and guidance that working professionals need to succeed. 

A great way to understand how well the program pulls off the balance between work and study is to see how many graduates passed the state exam the first time. There are some programs that have a 100% pass rate, and those are the ones that you want to invest in, as they put your success first. 

  1. Get Used to a New Routine Beforehand 

When you apply, you will often have a few weeks or even months before you hear back and even longer before the intake begins. Use this time wisely. Adding on a full degree (even part-time) is a huge commitment, and you need to get used to the additional responsibility before it becomes a reality. A good way to get used to it is by setting up an hour or so every day after your work where you learn, study or just try something new. What you do during this hour isn’t as important as getting used to doing something at all that isn’t just chores or relaxing in front of the television. 

When you start, you will be able to easily replace those hobby activities with your education.

  1. Nurses: Be Ready to Cut Back on Some Responsibilities 

There is always talk of juggling responsibilities, but the issue with this analogy is that there is a lot more to juggle than just work and school. You also have personal responsibilities, your health, chores, taxes, repairs, friends, and more that you are also “juggling,” and no, it isn’t possible to do it all, all the time – at least not without help. 

You need to know which responsibilities you can and even should cut back on. You need more time, more energy, and more headspace to successfully manage your career and a degree. If you have the budget, hiring others to tackle common issues like cleaning can be a great way to start. Otherwise, you’ll need to prepare those in your life that you won’t always be there, but you want to be. Sometimes you may not be able to hang out with your friends, but so long as you prioritize the big moments, you won’t hurt your relationships. 

  1. Split Up Studying with a Study Group 

You will have peers. Get in touch with them to split up studying and note-taking responsibilities. It may take some time to find the peers that suit the way you study and learn, but once you do, you can rely on these people as a true resource that does not have a parallel. 


Photo by CDC on Unsplash

When Health and Wellness Isn’t Enough 

Strategies that work to improve your health and wellbeing are just the start. Rather than see them as the be-all-and-end-all of your mental health and wellbeing journey, think of them as the ideal way to get to the starting line. Without using the aforementioned tips and tricks, you will forever be behind the starting line and be working to catch up. 

By seeing as health and wellbeing solutions not as a fix, but as a means to help you understand what you need, better. Improving your diet, getting a better night’s sleep, and using a few easy solutions to help you better manage your stress can help you understand your baseline, and as a result, get more targeted and effective solutions and treatment from mental health professionals. 

Those nurses with depression or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) won’t be magically fixed by a few at-home strategies, but they can cross out additional symptoms and issues that are being exacerbated by a poor diet or an isolating routine. Take out these unnecessary complications, and you can get to the meat of the matter more effectively. 

Finding the Right Balance for You 

Another thing nurses need to  keep in mind is that there is no amount of routine or health and wellness tricks that will be able to help if you are quite simply not in the right situation for you. If you consistently put yourself in a scenario that causes undue stress and chronic compassion fatigue, then you won’t be able to pull yourself out of the way you feel. 

There are so many different ways that you can take your nursing career. You can become that family nurse practitioner, for example, and say goodbye to stressful hospital work and hello to preventative, compassionate care that you can often only offer in a primary care clinic. Big, city hospitals too much?  Take a step back and move to a rural hospital instead that are traditionally less busy. 

Finding the right balance makes a world of difference when it comes to helping you live better and be better. Just as finding the right vocation for you is critical to help you feel fulfilled and interested in every day you work, so too is finding the right working environment. 

The bottom line

In some cases, it may not be the environment but in the company culture. Other times it will be the pace and scope of your workplace. Regardless of what situation you find yourself in now, always keep tabs on how you feel and use that information to help you adjust your career to find the perfect role and the perfect workplace, all at once. 


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