“A popular term for a mental or physical energy depletion after a period of chronic, unrelieved job-related stress characterized sometimes by physical illness. The person suffering from burnout may lose concern or respect for other people and often has cynical, dehumanized perceptions of people, labeling them in derogatory manner” (Mosby, 2002, p. 256).“Causes of burnout particular to the nursing profession often include stressful, even dangerous, work environments; lack of support; lack of respectful relationships within the health care team;… shift changes and long work hours; understaffing of hospitals; pressure from the responsibility of providing continuous high levels of care over long periods; and frustration and disillusionment resulting from the difference between job realities and job expectations” (Mosby, 2002, p. 256).
“It is the emotional residue of exposure to working with the suffering. It is the compassion-consuming calling of being a professional caregiver to seriously ill people” (Health Chaplains Ministry Association [HCMA], 2005, ¶ 4).Compassion fatigue happens when helpers/caregivers become emotionally drained because of hearing about all of the pain and trauma of their patients and families. The helpers still care and want to help, but they do not have the emotional energy to do so. Taking time off, getting professional help and nurturing self can usually help them return to being healthy, helpful caregivers(HCMA, ¶ 5).Compassion Fatigue: the people who are most prone to compassion fatigue are:Those who work with people who are in need, who are hurting, who have special problems going on in their lives and who have significant health issues; therefore, you are basically vulnerable to being overwhelmed by their experience as you absorb the trauma through their eyes and ears(HCMA, ¶ 11). Those who are deeply sensitive, who care a lot about their patients, who are willing to work the extra time, who are willing to put more into their ministry than they put into almost any other aspect of their lives, who tend to identify with the patients and families, and who do a poor job of replenishing themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually(HCMA, ¶ 11).
According to HCMA (¶ 12):Exhaustion. A lack of energy associated with feelings of tiredness and trouble keeping up with one's usual activities. Detachment. Putting distance between you and other people, particularly those with whom you have close relationships. Boredom and Cynicism. You begin to question the value of friendships and activities-even of life itself. Increased Impatience and Irritability. As burnout takes hold, your ability to accomplish things diminishes and your impatience grows and causes flare-ups with others. A Sense of Omnipotence. You have thoughts such as "Nobody can do my job better than I can." Feelings of Being Unappreciated. Burnout victims experience complex feelings of bitterness, anger, and resentment because they are not being appreciated more for their added efforts. Change of Work-Style. Reduced results and conflicts with colleagues will eventually cause you to either withdraw from decisive leadership and work habits, or you will seek to compensate for the conflicts by becoming more tyrannical, demanding and inflexible. Paranoia. Once burnout has taken a long-term hold, it's a small step from feeling unappreciated to feeling mistreated and threatened. Disorientation. Long-term burnout increases difficulty with wandering thought processes. Psychosomatic Complaints. Headaches, lingering colds, backaches, and similar complaints are often a result of the burnout victim's emotional stress. Depression. In burnout, the depression is usually temporary, specific and localized, pertaining more or less to one area of your life. Major Depression. This state is usually prolonged and pervades all areas of your life. Suicidal Thinking. As the depression progresses, the result can be suicidal thoughts(HCMA, ¶ 12).
Implications of Burnout and Compassion FatigueWithout a "pressure release valve," the holding tank will ultimately explode when the pressure gets too great. Can you feel the strain of the pressure building up inside you from your care giving? If so, when and how will you "release" the pressure? (HCMA, ¶ 13).Without "recharging the battery" after continuous use, it will surely go dead and become useless. Can you sense that you are running low on physical, emotional and spiritual energy? If so, when and in what ways will you "recharge" yourself? (HCMA, ¶ 14).Without "changing the oil" in the car, damage will eventually be done to the engine the longer you drive it without maintenance. Can you feel the wear and tear of the many miles you have put on your self at work? If so, when and how are you going to schedule some routine "maintenance" on your life? (HCMA, ¶ 15)."Overloading the system" will inevitably lead to a serious breakdown. As a caregiver, can you feel the weight bearing down upon you, overloading your physical, emotional and spiritual systems? If so, when and in what ways are you going to "lighten/balance" the load? (HCMA, ¶ 16).
Need Physical Renewal through (HCMA, ¶ 25):Exercise & ExertionNutrition & DietRelaxationWithout Addiction (HCMA).
Even poor Santa (Saint Nicolas)Need Emotional Renewal(HCMA, ¶ 26):With a Friend. Through Talking.Through Laughing.With Yourself-Through Journal Writing (HCMA).
Need Spiritual Renewal(HCMA, ¶ 27):Through AdorationThrough EducationThrough MeditationThrough AbsolutionConfessionForgiveness
Physical Renewal(HCMA, ¶ 25):Through Exertion. Because ministry is normally a sedentary profession, you need to adopt a thirty to sixty minute program of regular (at least three times per week) physical activity-in the form of jogging, walking, bicycling, swimming, tennis, racquetball, basketball, working out at the local spa-anything, as long as you find the exercise interesting and it is strenuous enough to produce deep breathing and liberal perspiration. Be sure to consult with your physician for his recommendation of a safe level of exercise for you-especially if you are over forty years old or have any health complications. Through Nutrition. You need to regularly eat a well-balanced diet when under a lot of pressure. Most nutritionists agree that the best diet is a balanced one that includes some of all the food groups. Foods you might want to limit when experiencing stress: Reduce the amount of caffeine-rich beverages you consume (e.g., coffee, colas, tea and cocoa). Decrease your intake of fat and sugar. It has been said that, "Our reserves in physical energy disappear proportionately as our waistline expands." Get enough fluids into your system throughout each day. The universal recommendation is six to eight glasses of water a day. Through Relaxation. To sleep soundly for a full night is a valuable restorative gift. Proper rest allows your physical, mental and emotional self to regain lost energy. Rest restores us. Determine how much sleep you need to feel and function at your best (Most studies show that most adults need about eight hours per night!) and then determine to get it most nights during the week. You need to take appropriate breaks daily-not working for too long a period of time and not working on one situation for too long. You need weekly breaks-not working over fifty hours a week. You need to take a quarterly long weekend off and a yearly break of at least two weeks off. Without Addiction. You must avoid using drugs and alcohol to help you cope with stress. Tranquilizers and sleeping pills should be used only under a doctor's care and with extreme caution. Drugs and alcohol merely numb the symptoms of the stress. They do nothing to help cure the cause. In fact, alcohol can actually cause stress. In laboratory tests, alcohol has been shown to trigger the release of stress hormones from the brain and pituitary and adrenal glands(the same reaction that might be brought on by money woes or marital problems(HCMA, ¶ 25).Emotional Renewal(HCMA, ¶ 26):With a Friend. Through Talking.A common ingredient among people who experience burnout is the fact that they do not have a friend to whom they are close enough to share their personal feelings and still feel loved and accepted. Studies show that people with social networks handle crises better. You need to cultivate a confidant with whom you can openly and honestly discuss what is going on in your heart and mind. The very worst way to deal with burnout is to bury it inside. The lack of a feedback system is not a sign of strength, but a sign of being foolish. You need someone to listen attentively while you share your concerns and heartaches and who can honestly respond to you with supportive comfort and counsel. Regularly discussing your frustrations and fears with someone you trust can provide substantial relief from pressure-even if it seems that at times nothing at all can help. Simply being able to put words to your feelings in the presence of a supportive person can be very freeing-it can even reenergize you. Through Laughing.A wise man once compared a cheerful heart to good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Humor, if you use it well, can be one of the most helpful things you can do to relieve tension. Being able to laugh about something often helps to put it into proper perspective. Ask yourself: "Have I laughed several times today?" If not, then do something to make yourself laugh: read a joke book, watch a comedy, look at old photos, whatever, as long as it will make you smile. Enjoy life! Through Support.Find opportunities to acknowledge, express and work through your experiences in a supportive environment. Seek assistance from other colleagues and caregivers who have worked in a similar environment and have remained healthy and hopeful. Develop a healthy support system to protect you from compassion fatigue and emotional exhaustion. With Yourself-Through Journal Writing.Personal journal writing is a consummate prescription for self-discovery, problem solving and healing emotional wounds. Our inner world may be clarified, calmed and comforted by revealing our feelings on paper(HCMA, ¶ 26).
Spiritual Renewal (HCMA, ¶ 27):Your spirituality-your sense of belonging to God completely and of God's abundant life in you-is, in my opinion, the most important element in coping with stress in your life. And Dr. Frederick Flack, in his book Resilience: Discovering a New Strength at Times of Stress, agrees: "I believe the most vital ingredient of resilience is faith." In the words of David A. Ruch, M.Div., M.A., a licensed clinical professional counselor:Our limitations as healers should draw us constantly back to dependency on God not only for power and faith to continue but for comfort and perspective when we feel defeated. When we recalibrate ourselves based on his sovereignty rather than our circumstances, we have new hope.Through Adoration.There is something uplifting and rejuvenating from spending time in praise and worship with a group of people who share your beliefs. There is therapeutic power for physical, emotional and spiritual renewal in listening to and singing inspirational music. For example, a hymn based on an early Greek hymn that dates as far back as the eighth century encourages us with these words:Art thou weary, art thou languid,Art thou sore distressed?"Come to me," saith One, "And comingBe at rest."Hath He marks to lead me to HimIf He be my Guide?In His feet and hands are wound-prints,And His side.Finding, following, keeping, struggling,Is He sure to bless?Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,Answer, "Yes." When pressing situations are upon you, you need to take time out to get spiritually oriented in order to refocus your attention on the "Problem Solver" who is greater than any of your pressures. Worship is one way to experience a rejuvenating supply of wisdom and strength and peace from God. Come to Him and unload your cares. He can handle it. Through Education. Read an Inspirational Book.Stimulate your soul as you gain understanding, find encouragement and revitalize your hope through the experiences and lessons of others. Read a Devotional Book.Acquaint yourself with your spiritual source of hope and renew your faith through the reading of the Scriptures associated with your belief system. Meditating on the Word of God allows God to speak to us personally through the words that apply, in one way or another, to all of us. The words in Isaiah 40:27-31 or Lamentations 3:17-26 or Matthew 11:28-30 are especially good to read when you feel weary and faint from the burdens pressing down upon you. You can experience hope and renewal when your attention is focused beyond your circumstances to the all-sufficient character of the eternal, faithful, all-powerful, ever-present, gracious Creator.Through Meditation.Prayer is the spontaneous, heartfelt sharing by needy human beings with God, who is able and willing to help. Bringing your pressures to God can change your perspective-it can keep you from becoming myopic-and help you to cope. Through prayer and meditation you can sweep the mind of all turmoil. In place of our exhaustion and spiritual fatigue, God will give us rest. All He asks is that you spend time with Him, meditating on Him, talking to Him, listening in silence, occupying yourselves with Him (Hebrews 12:3).Through Absolution. Confession.Ignoring transgression (when you have "crossed the line") in your life will tend to place a great emotional, spiritual and physical burden on yourself. God's forgiveness is always sufficient and immediately available (1 John 1:9). He welcomes repentance with open arms. Forgiveness.If you do not forgive others, you will tend to turn your anger inward, which results in bitterness, and then depression, and finally you will experience burnout symptoms. Forgiveness involves an act of the will-it is choosing to no longer hold a grudge against an offending party. Freedom from bitterness (through forgiveness) is necessary for effective recovery from burnout(HCMA, ¶ 27).Diversional Renewal (HCMA, ¶ 28):Through Relaxation. Maintaining good mental health often involves learning to relax. There are many books, tapes and seminars that can help teach you personal techniques on learning to mentally and physically relax yourself. When the sympathetic nervous system is quieted by these practices, muscle tension decreases, the heart rate slows and a feeling of well being often occurs. Here is one progressive muscle relaxation method: Isolate yourself from all noises and distractions (like the phone, TV, etc.). Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor (or, if you are in a recliner chair, resting comfortably on the footrest) and your hands resting comfortably in your lap or upon the armrests. Close your eyes. Make a deliberate effort to relax all your muscles. Begin with your head, then relax all your neck and back muscles. Let your chest and stomach muscles release their tension. Feel your arms becoming limp. Allow your legs and feet to completely relax. Spend about ten to fifteen minutes relaxing all your muscles as you feel the tension drain from your body. Through Recreation. Have a life beyond your professional work that nurtures you personally. Leisure is free activity, whereas labor is compulsory activity. In leisure you do what you like, but in labor you do what you must. In your labor you meet the objective needs and demands of others, but in leisure you scratch the subjective itches within yourself. Some recommend engaging in some form of enjoyable recreation (leisure time) at least three times per week-something not connected with your usual line of work. Watching make-believe characters on TV is never a substitute for experiencing life yourself. Take Mini-Vacations. If you are "vacating" only once a year (like many people), that block of time almost suffocates in the desperate attempt to cram a whole year's worth of happy escape into two weeks. You would fair much better to plan more consistent and more frequent breaks, each with a different purpose, to meet the various needs of your family. You need to break the habit of looking in the TV guide for your happiness each weekend. During your lunch break (a respite time) you might include: going on a picnic, going for a walk around the block, buying some flowers for the desk, or reading from a good book. After dinner could involve: playing a table game, singing a song together as a family, doing finger painting together, going swinging in the park, or watching the sunset from a hill top(HCMA, ¶ 28).Organizational Renewal(HCMA, ¶ 29):Through Position-Your Priorities. What are your priorities? You must try and keep a tight reign on your priorities, especially at times of greatest anticipated stress. You are likely to be an over-estimator as to what you can realistically do. You probably find it difficult to say "No"(both to yourself and others who may place demands on you. You must be rigorous in your assessment of priorities concerning meeting the needs of others. You need to practice saying no to activities of lesser priority-regardless of how worthwhile they may seem. Think about the idea that if you never say "no", what is your "yes" worth? Set and keep healthy boundaries for work. Ask yourself, "Will the world fall apart if I step away from my ministry for a day (or a week)?" Through Intentions-Your Plans. What is your plan for using your time wisely? Organizing your life may appear like a tall order with which you have difficulty at times, but you can learn to plan ahead. When you know what needs to be done, you are not as prone to experience surprises in your life. If emergencies do arise, then they are easier to cope with. While it is not necessary to become a slave to a schedule, getting organized can help you run your life more smoothly and efficiently. Part of organizing your life involves planning "time outs" or mini-vacations. This is necessary for your survival. Consider creating small "buffer zones" between some of your obligations to allow yourself ten to fifteen minutes to close your eyes, pray, reorient your priorities and defuse your tension. Time can work for or against you, depending on how you choose to use it. You can allow yourself to procrastinate and then rush to meet deadlines, you can leave little time to finish projects and you can hurry from one activity to another without taking a moment to catch your breath or utter a prayer. But when you organize your time by setting priorities and planning accordingly, you stay directed and live a purposeful life that is much less stress-filled(HCMA, ¶ 29).
Caregiver's self-assessmentRead the following Caregiver's self-assessment and see if you may be at risk for caregiver's burnout. To locate respite services in your community that can provide you with a temporary break from your care giving duties call 1-866-219-7218 or visit the Lifespan Respite Care Program Web site.(Oregon Department of Human Services [ODHS], 2007, ¶ 5).Please answer "yes" or "no" to the following questions related to your care giving situation:Do you ever find yourself trying to do it all and be responsible for all aspects of the care giving? Do you experience sleep disturbances, including inability to fall asleep or stay asleep? Do you frequently experience aches and pains, including muscle aches, neck aches or headaches? Do you say to yourself "I should be able to...," "I can never..." or other similar statements? Do you get frustrated about something in particular you are unable to change? Do you experience chronic health problems and experience low energy or exhaustion? Do you resist asking for and receiving assistance from others? Do you feel that your family has no idea what you must go through and they simply do not understand? Do you experience emotional outbreaks, including anxiety, depression, anger, guilt or loneliness? (ODHS, ¶ 6)If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you are more than likely experiencing caregiver stress, which can put you at risk for caregiver burnout. You can manage caregiver stress so that it does not make you ill or interfere with your care giving and the rest of your life. Many care giving situations fail or caregivers become ill because they have failed to sustain the activities, interests and friendships that they love. It is critical that you have a few hours a week away from care giving. Remember, you cannot provide quality care unless you care for yourself(ODHS, ¶ 7).
Combating Burnout and
Compassion Fatigue: Care Givers
Compassion fatigue definition
Nature of the problems they can cause
Emotional indications and needs
Spiritual indications and needs
Resources for help and hope
"a syndrome of emotional
accomplishment that can
occur among individuals
who do 'people work' of
(Maslach, 1982, p. 3).
Compassion Fatigue Definition
“The notion of being burned
out by the kind of work that
you do, the kind of patients
and families that you deal
with and the residue from
ministering to those
(Health Chaplains Ministry
Association [HCMA], 2005,
“It is not about problems
and hassles at work,
but it is about the
stress associated with
the clients you deal
with” (HCMA, ¶ 4).
Warning Signs of Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
Change of Work-Style
Boredom and Cynicism
A Sense of Omnipotence
Feelings of Being
(HCMA, ¶ 12).
Nature of the problems they can cause
Results in a loss of enthusiasm, energy, idealism,
perspective and purpose on a mental, physical,
emotional and spiritual level (HCMA, ¶ 2).
Requires professional help and discontinuing being a
caregiver until the cynicism and impairment are
gone (HCMA, ¶ 3).
Physical Indications and Needs
A persistent sense of physical fatigue: feeling "run down"
Frequent headaches, migraines.
Chronic muscle tensions of the head, necks or back.
Gastrointestinal problems (ulcers).
Decreased appetite (or a never-satisfied appetite).
Sleeplessness in spite of feeling fatigued.
High blood pressure.
Shortness of breath.
Nervous tics, tremors, teeth/jaw clenching.
(HCMA, ¶ 6)
Emotional Indications and Needs
Depression ("I don't care anymore!").
A dulling affect, mental fatigue ("I can't think straight anymore!").
Increased irritability, hostility ("I hate this job now!").
Decreased tolerance for frustration ("I can't take it anymore!").
Feelings of helplessness and an inability to see a way out ("I dread going to
Increased risk taking and impulsivity
Inflexibility of behavior and goals ("I can't adjust to this!").
Cynicism about self, others, work and the world ("I can't stand this
Apathy ("I don't care anymore!").
Reduction or abandonment of recreational activities ("I'd rather stay home
Decreased capacity for pleasure and social contacts ("I don't want to go out
Withdrawal, detachment ("I'd rather be alone!").
Increased interpersonal and/or marital discord.
(HCMA, ¶ 7).
Spiritual Indications and Needs
Disillusionment and disappointment with God.
You feel that God is powerless to help.
You feel that God does not care.
You feel that God has abandoned you, your patient and the
Discontinuance of religious practices.
You stop worshipping-privately and corporately.
You stop praying.
You stop reading your Bible.
Development of spiritual apathy.
(HCMA, ¶ 8).
Physical Renewal through:
Exercise & Exertion
Talking with a Friend
Nutrition & Diet
Relaxation & Vacation
Without Drug or
Yourself : Journal
(HCMA, ¶ 25).
(HCMA, ¶ 26).
Resources for Help and Hope
Health Chaplains Ministry Association (2005). Balancing the
burdens of care giving: Avoiding compassion fatigue.
Retrieved March 1, 2010, from
Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mosby (Ed.). (2002). Mosby’s medical, nursing, and allied
health dictionary (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Douglas M.
Oregon Department of Human Services (2007). Caregiver’s selfassessment. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from