Compassion fatigue can be a serious hazard for those in any helping profession or for those who are caregivers of a loved one. This is not surprising, as those with the most empathy are the most at risk. Certainly, this is true for healthcare workers, counselors, clergy, emergency personnel and other helping professionals, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the caregiver.
Compassion fatigue is the emotional and physical exhaustion caused by caring for others, which can lead to an emotional numbness or a significant decrease in the ability to empathize. It is often described as burnout. Though the feelings associated with the condition are common, quite often the condition goes unidentified. If left untreated, compassion fatigue not only can affect mental and physical health but can also affect the relationship with their loved one.
Signs of compassion fatigue can include, but are not limited to:
• Feeling overwhelmed by the suffering of others
• Blaming others for their suffering
• Isolating yourself
• Loss of pleasure in life
• Difficulty concentrating
• Physical and mental fatigue
• Bottling up your emotions
• Decrease in empathy
Because these symptoms can also be linked to other conditions, many caregivers choose to ignore their own symptoms while taking care of their loved ones. Many people believe they have no choice so they just push through the warning signs. Ignoring what your body is trying to tell you and working extended periods of strenuous service can cause compassion fatigue to settle in.
Caregivers and helping professionals are most at risk, but it can happen to anyone who witnesses the suffering of others. Compassion fatigue comes from absorbing trauma and emotional stresses of others so that it also creates traumatic stress in the helper. Compassion fatigue is the emotional residue of working with those who are suffering in some way.
Here are a few tips to prevent compassion fatigue from controlling your life.
Take the time to read up on the topic. Many online resources can offer valuable insight into what to watch for and how to avoid this condition. Though compassion fatigue may not always be 100% avoidable, you can develop a plan to avoid overloading yourself.
Be sure to set aside time for yourself. It is valuable to have a quiet time each day to reflect on the things happening around you and cope with the stress of taking care of someone. This can also offer your loved one a time to do the same. Spend time on something that lifts you up emotionally.
Evaluating the needs of your loved one is an important step in setting boundaries for yourself. Once you understand what you can help with and what is out of your control, make it a point not to fixate on things that you cannot help. The key is to remain compassionate, empathetic, and supportive without becoming overly involved and making someone else’s pain your own. Healthy boundaries help you remain connected while remembering and honoring that you are a separate person with your own needs.
Take the time to enjoy activities that are outside of the home, doctors’ offices, and other service settings. Getting outside is good for mental health. Go for a walk, ride a bike, go swimming, paint a picture or participate in other creative activities. Do anything that takes your mind away from troubling thoughts and provides a stress-relieving environment.
Don’t get too set in a routine and forget to live your life. It is easy to get carried away in taking care of routine tasks and forget to enjoy things outside of our required work. Make sure to enjoy friendly faces and activities outside of your normal setting.
Jot down the thoughts running through your head. As a caregiver, it can be difficult to turn your mind off and relax. Writing your thoughts and daily happenings can be a great stress reliever during difficult seasons of life. Write the thoughts and feelings you haven’t told anyone about.
Find something to be grateful for each day. If you are a believer, spend time in prayer and fellowship with others for support. Read the Psalms and other favorite scriptures that lift your spirits. Relationships with others can offer a great support system, and time must be set aside to maintain those relationships. Consider joining a caregiver support group. Regular exercise is also a great stress reliever with multiple health benefits. Find ways that are most effective coping methods for you, and use them regularly.
It is important to understand and recognize the negative effects of compassion fatigue. This allows you to know what to look for and evaluate yourself regularly to be sure you are taking care of your personal needs just as you are taking care of the needs of your loved one.
Remember, you must take care of yourself in order to be helpful to your loved one. Proactive self-care will ensure that you can effectively care for your loved one long term.
About the author: John DeMotto has worked with Social Services at Advent Christian Village for the past 8 years. Being from Live Oak, he attended and graduated from Suwannee High School and furthered his education at Saint Leo University where he received his Bachelor’s in Psychology. DeMotto and his wife have two children, 10 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandson.