Signs of Compassion Fatigue & How to Cope with It

Woman standing outside_Staci Metzgerby Staci Metzger, LMSW

Caring for a loved one can be fulfilling and one of the best gifts you can offer. Along with the rewards, caregivers face many challenges and stressors, including compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a special kind of burnout that happens to caregivers as a result of providing care to a person who is experiencing ongoing suffering or illness. When caregivers are empathetic, they may internalize some of the suffering and emotions felt by the person who is ill. Over time, you can start to feel overwhelmed, or numb to the needs of the person you are caring for.

High-stress environments also contribute to compassion fatigue. 

Caregiving for others may adversely affect the caregiver’s mind, body or spirit. Caregivers often overextend themselves, which can lead to them feeling like they are “just going through the motions” of their lives with no sense of purpose or meaning.

Anyone who provides direct care, whether you are caring for a family member or friend or caring for someone in a professional role, can experience compassion fatigue.

Signs of Compassion Fatigue:

  • Apathy and sadness
  • Blaming others
  • Changes in sleep
  • Decreased engagement in hobbies
  • Depression
  • Easily distracted
  • Frequent/chronic illnesses
  • Increased complaining
  • Irritable
  • Lack of pleasure
  • Loss of humor
  • Negative mood
  • Nightmares
  • Poor diet
  • Poor hygiene/appearance
  • Substance use/alcohol use
  • Withdrawn and joyless

Being aware of the signs of compassion fatigue, taking good care of yourself and sharing your feelings with a support system can help you be more prepared as a caregiver. A practical example of compassionate fatigue could be the following scenario:

Your daily routine has always included getting up, showering, making your bed, brewing a pot of coffee and tidying up around the house. After caring for a chronically ill loved one, you’re finding it difficult to accomplish your day-to-day routine. You rarely make your bed, things around the home aren’t organized and it’s been difficult to find the time to shower and brush your hair.

These indicators could mean you’re experiencing compassion fatigue. Below are helpful tips on ways to cope and self-care strategies to combat compassion fatigue.

Coping Strategies

  • Accept what you cannot change
  • Avoid destructive behavior
  • Be aware of stress
  • Be flexible and willing to learn new things
  • Be open to change
  • Educate yourself
  • Establish limits
  • Think and act positive
  • Train yourself not to react
  • Build a positive support system

Caregiving Self-care Tips

  • Ask for help
  • Get a massage, read a good book, meet a friend for coffee
  • Keep it simple
  • Maintain your regular medical visits
  • Make a promise to do something each day just for you
  • Meditate, journal, listen to soothing music
  • Plan leisure time
  • Practice health habits (eat nutritious meals, exercise, sleep 7-8 hours)
  • Start a gratitude journal
  • Take break, use respite services
  • Use community resources (support groups, etc.)

Caregiving is a labor of love and something many people want to do for those in their lives, especially when faced with a serious illness. Practicing good self-care will ensure you are able to provide the very best care for your loved one while also making sure you’re not depleting your compassion reserve.

Staci Metzger, LMSW, LGSW, APHSW-C, is the lead social worker with Hospice of the Red River Valley.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving more than 30 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email questions@hrrv.org or visit www.hrrv.org.

 

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