Hospice Basics

Dealing with Stress When You Work with Death and Dying

April 4, 2017

Doctor leaning against wall rubbing forehead

Remaining Healthy

Helping patients and their families through the difficult process of death and dying is incredibly rewarding. It is also incredibly stressful. It’s important that you and your team remain healthy during emotionally stressful times.

If more than 3 of these apply to you, you might be suffering from compassion fatigue.

  • I feel my patient’s stress deeply.
  • I find small changes draining.
  • I have lost my sense of being hopeful.
  • I have outbursts of anger or irritability.
  • I feel tired and rundown because of my work with patients, families and co-workers.
  • I find it difficult to separate my work and personal lives.
  • I feel overwhelmed by unfinished personal business.
  • I have difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • I feel like a failure as a helper.

How to Relieve Stress

You can relieve some stress by taking time out of your busy schedule to focus on you. Do it with a clear conscious; you can’t afford not to.

Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

  • Your health is important too. Take care of yourself by eating well, sleeping well and participating in hobbies or activities that get your mind off work, like exercising or enjoying time with friends or family.
  • Take regular, short breaks throughout the day. Small breaks from your daily workload, like going out for a ten-minute walk or having a late-afternoon snack, can help ease stress and improve both your mood and your work.
  • Foster a support system, both at and outside of work. Let your colleagues know how you are feeling and ask how they are doing. A sense of camaraderie and support can be very positive in the workplace. If you feel it might help, reach out to a clergy member or professional counselor for advice and comfort.
  • Remember that your work is valuable. What you do for patients and their families is meaningful. But death and dying are stressors, and it can be easy to forget that your daily work brings quality of life to the end of life.

Stress is a very natural response to living and working so close to dying and death. An honest assessment of your stress levels and following steps to manage that stress can help you both professionally and personally.

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