Caring for a loved one at home can be emotionally and physically exhausting. With all focus going to the patient, the caregiver’s own needs often slip to the bottom of the list of priorities. What results is compassion fatigue and, if left unaddressed, complete burnout.
“People minimize it and say, ‘Oh, I’m burned out, but I have to keep doing what I’m doing’,” said Amy Silbaugh, manager of mental health services for Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio. “But you can only do that for so long until there is nothing left to give.”
A Common Example of Compassion Fatigue
“We often see situations where a person has a parent living with her in the home, and she also has young children,” Silbaugh said. “She is always doing something for others, but she never does anything for herself. People love their parents, and they don’t want to put them in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. But it often results with some resentment or anxiety.”
Signs that a caregiver may be experiencing compassion fatigue include isolation from others, bottling up emotions, excessive blaming, substance abuse, apathy, preoccupation, poor self-care and denial.
To avoid or relieve compassion fatigue, Silbaugh said caregivers must be sure to maintain a healthy diet, get a full night’s sleep and take time and do things for themselves.
Tips for Alleviating Compassion Fatigue
- Deep breathing
- Taking up a hobby
- Enjoyable exercise
- Engaging in spiritual practices
- Taking time for reflection alone or with a meaningful conversation with a companion
- Writing in a journal
- Creating or enjoying art and music
- Taking a walk in the park or engaging nature
Caregivers who do not find ways to relieve their own compassion fatigue put themselves at risk for burnout, Silbaugh said. When that happens, they become indifferent and disengaged. They even may withdraw from the patient.
“It’s important that caregivers take time for themselves,” Silbaugh said. “The tank doesn’t run on empty. Sometimes, the caregivers end up in worse shape than the patient. Your life can’t be about taking care of your loved one. It just can’t be.”
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