Fall is a great time of the year. It is a sign that the year is wrapping up, and a reminder that the old will soon end, to be replaced by the new. It’s the time of year that makes me pause and reevaluate my life on all fronts, including my role as an oncology nurse navigator. I’m not sure why it is, but this is also the time of the year I’m more aware of my fatigue. It’s as if I have to take an extra deep breath to push through this last slice of the year.
As oncology nurse navigators, we’ve spent much of the year giving of ourselves to our patients and their families. As my nurse navigator friend Rachel is fond of saying, “Sometimes we use ourselves as a Band-Aid for those who are hurting.” Throughout the year we’ve had the privilege to share some joyous times with patients and families, but we’ve also had to share some sad times, too. Watching suffering in our patients and families can be deeply traumatic for us. We’ve all probably lost patients this year that meant a lot to us.
How do we look after ourselves at the end of a hard year? How do we prevent the compassion fatigue and burnout that we oncology nurses are prone to? According to Stacy Wu et al, “Evidence indicates that oncology nurses are particularly vulnerable to occupational stress because of the conditions under which they provide care. Research has demonstrated that two of the most commonly reported work-related consequences for nurses are compassion fatigue and burnout.” 1
One of the ways I deal with my stress and fatigue is running. When the weather is bad, I get on a treadmill, and when I can get out, I run down by a nearby river. I find when I get back from a run, I feel much better, both physically and mentally. I find when I stick to a regular running schedule, I feel less stressed and have more energy during my work day.
Having said that, it’s very easy to miss a couple of days of exercise, especially when I’m tired, but I know from experience that when I do that, I pay for it. I don’t think exercise needs to be running necessarily; I think any kind of exercise we enjoy, including walking, is equally effective in combating stress and fatigue.
I’ve also found my diet affects how I feel. When I eat more fruits and vegetables, I seem to have more energy and less fatigue. Having said that, it’s fine to splurge every now and then, especially over the holidays, but obviously it shouldn’t become the norm for any of us.
As oncology nurse navigators, we encourage safe exercising and a nutritious diet for our cancer patients and their families because we have plenty of evidence to show it helps our patients get through cancer treatment. I think the same applies to us as oncology nurse navigators. If we practice what we preach, and include fun exercise and a healthy diet in our daily lives, we will manage better, and possibly protect ourselves from compassion fatigue and burnout.
At this time of the year when we pause and prepare for the new year, let us not forget to be kind to ourselves. Let us reevaluate how we are treating our health, and take a moment to care for ourselves.
1Stacy Wu MSN, F. S.-C.-B.-B. (2016, Volume 43, Number 4). Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Compassion Satisfaction Among Oncology Nurses in the United States and Canada. Oncology Nursing Forum, 515.