Compassion Fatigue for Caregivers
Find out what it is and how to overcome it
Caregiver stress is, unfortunately, a part of life when caring for someone with a chronic illness such as PD – especially over an extended period of time. “Compassion fatigue” and even exhaustion can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. How can you and those people in your expanded circle of support recognize the warning signs of caregiver fatigue, and identify constructive ways of coping with the situation?
Caregiver distress can only be acknowledged and hopefully managed if the person in distress or close, caring observers, take notice of the warning signs, and are willing to intervene.
- An ongoing tendency to ignore or postpone taking care of own health needs
- Growing feelings of isolation, as in, “nobody knows or understands what is really going on with us”
- Feelings of anxiety, uncertainty about the future, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” crisis which can trigger verbal or even physical abuse of the care recipient
- Feelings of anger at the care recipient or situation, often followed by guilt
- Feelings of profound tiredness, exhaustion not relieved by sleep
- Emotional strain/stress, often manifesting as varying physical symptoms
- An inability to concentrate or make decisions
- Bitterness toward friends or relatives who “should help more”
- Tendency to use alcohol or drugs to try to lessen stress levels
- Depression, despair, feelings of hopelessness
So what can I do to feel better?
- Call a meeting with key friends and family members to candidly discuss what’s happening with you and your loved one with PD.
- Have the courage to share your feelings of isolation, and disappointment that friends have stopped coming to visit or that family members are not supportive in the ways you need.
- Make a short list of specific tasks that would help you take better care of your loved one and get some much-needed respite. i.e. “Could you come every other Tuesday to take Frank to the barber and out to lunch?” Be honest if lack of funds is a constant worry; perhaps someone in your circle might be able to help with medication costs for one month, or pick up groceries for you once a week.
- Ask for one or two volunteers to be “on call” for you during particularly bad days.
- Not everyone needs professional counseling to cope with the burdens of extended caregiving, but all caregivers need an inner circle of friends they can call on day or night without feeling like they are imposing.
- Many overburdened caregivers do need short-term professional counseling.
To help determine your level of emotional distress, go to the Mental Health America website.
- By the same token, their sensitivity can make them vulnerable to “compassion fatigue”. According to the Life Quality Institute compassion fatigue is a secondary stress disorder which results from a reaction of caregivers that are exposed to the trauma and suffering of others. It occurs when the caregiver over-identifies with the pain and suffering of the person they serve. Compassion fatigue can ultimately reduce the caregiver’s capacity to provide compassionate care.
Manifestations of compassion fatigue can include:
- Feeling of being overwhelmed
- Seeing no end in sight
- Frustration and anger
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Profound sadness and depression
- Physical indications – headaches, acid reflux, insomnia
- Self-medication – alcohol, drug abuse
Fortunately, there are many resources available to caregivers including: