Compassion Fatigue and Self Care for Caregivers

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C
Last Reviewed: November 16, 2022

A critical part of caregiving is compassion. Compassion means "to bear suffering." As we give more and more of ourselves in caregiving relationships, we also experience the suffering, the ups and downs, the good news and the bad news with our loved ones. Just being compassionate can be exhausting and when it becomes too much, caregivers can experience "compassion fatigue."

Symptoms of compassion fatigue may include

  • Sleep disturbances including hypersomnia (sleeping too much), insomnia (inability to sleep), nightmares, and interrupted sleep.
  • Less interest in caregiving duties.
  • Feeling more stress.
  • Being traumatized by caregiving activities and functions.
  • Irritability.
  • Disinterest and resentment (in caregiving or towards the person you are caring for).
  • Substance use/abuse.

Often times, compassion fatigue can be described as feeling "fried." When you feel fried, you doubt your abilities as caregivers. You may experience denial about the caregiving situation or your own abilities (or limits). You may feel discouraged and may disengage from those around you who care. Compassion fatigue is a common side effect of caregiving that can be prevented, or managed by making a commitment to caring for YOURSELF! This is known as 'self-care.'

Self-care techniques vary for each individual. What works for one, may not work for another. Studies have shown that the best technique for managing compassion fatigue is through physical activity and exercise. This doesn't mean you need to go out and train for a marathon. Find a physical activity you enjoy doing. Maybe it's bowling, walking around the neighborhood, biking, swimming, or tai chi. The important thing is to get moving, as exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins have properties that naturally relieve pain and distress. Endorphin release can also trigger better sleep and decreased anxiety, as well as boost our self-esteem.

Perhaps you are an avid reader. Losing yourself in a book can be a wonderful way of caring for yourself. However, this can be difficult to do when you are trying to manage caregiving responsibilities. This is a great time to ask a friend or another family member to provide supervision, companionship, or other caregiving duties for your loved one. It is important to develop a caregiving support network to tap into for help so that you can take time to care for yourself.

While it isn't always easy to do, you should not give up things that are important to you and your well being, for the sake of caregiving.

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