If you’re a caregiver for an elderly loved one, you're undoubtedly aware of how demanding this duty can be. Not only do you have to juggle many responsibilities, but your relationship with the older adult you're providing care for has likely changed too. It can be challenging and unpredictable at times, and unfortunately, many caregivers struggle with excessive levels of stress and anxiety due to the demands of taking on such a role.
If you have ever felt easily frustrated or overly exhausted, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad caregiver. Likewise, you are not alone. Many caregivers have experienced these sensations in the form of compassion fatigue.
What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue can be a difficult concept to understand. So often we care for our aging loved ones out of love for them, but as the days, weeks, and perhaps years stretch on, this care can begin to feel monotonous. If you’ve ever felt like you’re simply going through the motions to care for a senior in your life—perhaps even taking energy away from your life and needs to do so—you’re likely experiencing compassion fatigue.
The biggest, and often most unsettling, indicator of compassion fatigue is a decrease in empathy toward your loved one. After all, you care deeply for this person and now you’re beginning to feel more negative emotions, perhaps even resentment. This sensation can take many people by surprise. But, as we said before, you’re not alone.
While compassion fatigue has been common in medical professionals for many years, it’s now reaching family caregivers who devote their time to their loved ones. If you’re wondering if you’re working through this condition, ask yourself these questions:
- Have I let my self-care and my needs take the back burner?
- Am I exhausted often?
- Do I feel disconnected or isolated?
- Am I having trouble sleeping?
- Am I feeling dread, guilt, anxiety, anger or irritable?
- Are decisions hard for me to make right now?
- Am I having trouble finding meaning in caregiving?
If you answered yes to these questions, you could be experiencing compassion fatigue. Most family caregivers resist acknowledging they are feeling this way, but the best thing you can do is accept it and then learn how to combat it.
What to Do if You Are Experiencing Compassion Fatigue
The first step to combating compassion fatigue, as with any condition, is to acknowledge it and commit to working through it. Then, the most important thing you can do is to establish routines for self-care.
Self-care should include regular exercise, a balanced diet, and time to get a good, full night’s rest. By taking care of yourself first you’ll be able to provide better care to those you love. Self-care can also include planning social time and nights out with friends, which can have a dramatic impact on your wellbeing.
Another suggestion is to find a way to get your thoughts and feelings out of yourself. For some people, this might mean journaling about their caregiving experience every night. Others might prefer to find a support group of other caregivers—like the one offered at Marjorie P. Lee's sister campus in Cincinnati, OH—to share stories and encourage one another. Still others might choose to find a counselor or therapist to help talk through this situation.
If you’re looking for something else, though, consider attending an event and learning from experts. The 2020 Refresh Your Soul conference coming up on March 16th is a day focused on promoting healthy living. It also features speakers whose work deals with healthy living and aging, which in turn can combat compassion fatigue.
Speakers will be discussing the importance of sleep, daily “joy hack” choices, and how to identify compassion fatigue. Attending Refresh Your Soul is an excellent way to take a step outside of your daily life, invest in yourself, and learn how you can better care for those around you. Click here to register for the highly anticipated event.
If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, don’t worry. By re-prioritizing your own self-care and wellbeing, you can pour into yourself so you can then serve your loved ones with more love and care.