Managing Stress When Dealing with Death and Dying

March 2, 2021

Staying as Healthy as Possible

Having the opportunity to help patients and their loved ones through the extremely difficult process of death and dying is incredibly rewarding, but it also can be incredibly stressful.  It is essential that teams of healthcare providers remain as healthy as possible, especially during emotionally strenuous times.

If more than three of the following apply to you, it is possible that you are suffering from compassion fatigue:

  • I feel my patient’s stress deeply
  • Small changes are draining for me
  • I have lost my sense of being hopeful
  • I have outbursts of anger or irritability
  • Due to my work with patients, families and co-workers, I feel tired and rundown
  • It is difficult for me to separate my work and personal lives
  • Having unfinished personal business makes me feel overwhelmed 
  • Falling or staying asleep is difficult for me
  • As a helper, I feel like a failure

How You Can Relieve Stress

Taking time out of your busy schedule to truly focus on yourself can relieve some stress. This must be done so without regret or shame, and with a clear conscience, as you can’t afford not to.

Here are some helpful reminders/tips to get you started:

  • Your health is also important. Give yourself the care you need by eating well, sleeping well and participating in hobbies or activities that get your mind off work, (i.e. exercising or spending quality time with friends and family).
  • Take routine, short breaks throughout the work day. Allowing small breaks from your daily workload, such as taking a ten-minute walk or having a quick snack, can assist in easing the stress and even improve both your mood and your productivity.
  • Foster an effective system of support, both at work and in your personal life.  Talk with your colleagues about how you are feeling and ask how they are doing.  Having a sense of camaraderie and support can have a very positive impact on staff in the workplace. Also, if you feel it might be helpful, reach out to a clergy member or professional counselor for advice and comfort as well.
  • Keep in mind that your work is valuable. The work that you do for patients and their families is meaningful. Regardless, death and dying are stressors, and it can be easy to forget that your daily work brings quality of life to the sensitive period when a person is nearing end-of-life.
  • Remember that stress is a very natural response to living and working so closely to death. A direct and honest evaluation of your stress levels, along with following the appropriate steps to manage that stress can benefit you greatly, both professionally and personally.
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