How To Cope With Compassion Fatigue
Most caregivers encounter fatigue and frustration from providing care for their loved one, and it may come close to caregiver burnout. Even those who have years of experience in caregiving may occasionally wonder how much longer they can continue.
In times like this, caregivers may come very close to burnout, but there’s another stage that can be much more severe and scary. Some caregivers may feel like they’ve progressed much further than burnout, and there is a term for these caregivers’ feelings: compassion fatigue.
Caregiver Burnout vs. Compassion Fatigue
A majority of caregivers have likely heard about burnout or have experienced it, but many haven’t heard of compassion fatigue or how it differs from caregiver burnout.
Compassion fatigue is a state of extreme stress and tension that can result in feeling hopelessness, indifference, negativity, and disinterest in other people’s problems.
Compassion fatigue is different from burnout because compassion fatigue is secondary stress that results from exposure to other’s traumatic experiences, which creates high levels of emotional stress. Compassion fatigue is considered an occupational hazard for people who commonly encounter stress and or trauma in their work environment. This commonly happens with nurses, correctional workers, child protective services workers, and other mental health professionals. This is one major reason people in these professions leave their jobs for other kinds of work.
Who Is Susceptible?
Many family caregivers are very susceptible to compassion fatigue. Think of an adult child who’s responsible for providing full-time care for their loved one with Alzheimer’s. The caregiver likely isn’t providing high-level nursing, but they still care for someone who’s emotionally and physically distressed and have limited options for providing comfort. Although there are many similarities between professional caregivers and family caregivers, family caregivers typically don’t have preventative measures that employers offer—for example, mental health days, professional counseling, etc.
Some may think compassion fatigue comes from frustration or resentment, but they should understand that this hazard is not something that happens overnight. Instead, this results from days, weeks, months, and years of managing and providing care responsibilities that often go unnoticed. These responsibilities can seem endless, be emotionally damaging, and physically exhausting. Feelings of frustration, resentment, hopelessness, and guilt are not uncommon.
Empathy And Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue is different from burnout because it causes caregivers to experience a diminished sense of empathy for their loved ones or those they care for. This distinction is important because many family caregivers take on their role out of love. Informal caregivers look out for family members, unlike nurses and other professionals who aren’t tasked with caring for people they are personally close to. Family caregivers are invested emotionally in their loved ones, making them even more vulnerable. Studies show that compassion fatigue happens when a family caregiver relationship is founded on empathy, and typically results in a psychological response to stress which progresses into physical, spiritual, social, and psychological social exhaustion.
Once someone has developed compassion fatigue and experiences insensitivity or indifference to their patient or loved one, they should temporarily remove themselves from their caregiving role.
Someone with compassion fatigue may exhibit actions such as yelling, neglecting, or even hitting their loved one. Essentially, it is an action that is not a typical characteristic of the caregiver’s usual behavior but is now a present or consistent behavior.
How To Recognize The Symptoms
Caregivers should know what the signs of burnout and compassion fatigue look like so they may keep an eye out for them in their behavior in order to act on it. There are quite a few red flags that point to compassion fatigue, and the key to preventing these long-lasting emotional issues and stress-related illnesses is self-awareness.
The 9 Warning Signs Of Compassion Fatigue
- Feelings of exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed and feeling drained.
- Avoiding your loved ones and not wanting to be around them (for example, daydreaming about no longer having to care for them, going to work late, etc.)
- Decreased patience and tolerance
- Angry outbursts that are out of your character
- Negative feelings and a sense of hopelessness
- Heightened anxiety
- Diminished ability to make care decisions
- Having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches or gastrointestinal issues
How To Prevent Compassion Fatigue
If you notice yourself experiencing any of the above-described warning signs, then you should prioritize yourself and tend to your needs. Compassion fatigue is not a one size fits all situation. It’s continuous as each caregiver has different limits, and there may be times throughout caregiving when someone’s susceptibility to stress may be increased or decreased. Quite a few people would experience these from time to time. Feelings like these are undesirable but often overlooked because of the few resources available for this demographic of workers. If you feel as if the above-described warning signs become part of your everyday life instead of feeling them from time to time, then it’s time for you to act.
Self-Care Treatment For Compassion Fatigue
Most caregivers think that self-care is impossible, but it’s important to understand that if you don’t put time towards self-care, then no one else will. In fields where compassion fatigue happens the most, employers have policies to prevent physical and emotional stress from impacting employees’ work attitudes and personal lives. Because of this, family caregivers need to advocate for themselves and create a care plan which allows for breaks, self-assessments, respite time, professional support, and changes in workload. These changes will help minimize caregiver burden and help you create a more positive caregiver experience for you and your loved one.
Having a place to express your thoughts and feelings can also be beneficial. You should have a time and place to release your pent-up emotions and thoughts. Some of these outlets include writing in a personal journal or talking/seeking advice from a mental health professional to help process your emotions.
If you believe you’re already experiencing symptoms like these, you should seek help and respite care immediately. If you have a notion that your feelings won’t subside, especially if you’re actively caring for someone, it may cause depression, panic attacks, or even cause you to put your loved one in harm’s way.
Once you feel like yourself again, you can begin to make important care decisions to help prevent future instances of burnout and compassion fatigue. For example, you may opt for a permanent placement in a long-term care facility or create a care plan that offers regular breaks and respite. Decisions like this can help you get on the right track for a different kind of caregiving, one that isn’t defined by compassion fatigue.
Legal And Financial Planning For Nursing Home Assistance
Being a caregiver is not an easy task.
Oftentimes as the physical and mental condition of an elderly loved one will progress beyond what a family caregiver can provide.
In these instances, families usually begin looking for a nursing home that can provide the 24 hour medical care their loved one needs and deserves.
Unfortunately, the cost of nursing home care is incredibly expensive.
In Michigan, the average cost of a nursing home is between $8,000-$9,000 per month. Many families worry about spending their entire life savings and losing the family home just to pay for nursing home costs.
Fortunately, you can protect your savings and home from nursing home costs by qualifying for nursing home benefits to pay for care.
To find out how, please read this article.
If you already know that you want nursing home benefits to pay for care, please call our office at (248) 613-0007 to schedule a free initial case evaluation to find out if we can help you qualify.