Caregiving and Stress – Compassion Fatigue
Are you struggling with compassion fatigue? Are you a caregiver? Have you made it your profession to be a caregiver to others? Are you the caregiver of someone who you love – a family member or a friend?
Whether you are a caregiver by profession or a caregiver by relationship with someone who needs care, you will be faced with many stressful situations that can be exhausting. When caregivers are faced with repeated stress situations, they can experience short and long-term detrimental effects in their lives. This can cause many health and personal problems for the caregiver.
The Impact Of Stressful Situations
Stress stems from the situations that we encounter that puts pressure on our lives. This causes both our minds and our bodies to have a reaction. Our bodies get ready to respond to this pressure, which can have both positive and negative results. When the pressure is excessive, frequent, or overwhelming, stress can cause negative effects on our lives.
Compassion fatigue is stress resulting from helping or wanting to help people who are experiencing trauma or suffering. Let’s face it, there is an emotional residue that gets left behind after we have spent time caring for someone who has or is experiencing trauma. If we are not mindful of this residue, and we aren’t engaged in forms of self-care – we will carry the emotional residue with us.
Compassion fatigue results in a loss of capacity for, or interest in, being empathetic to others pain. As a result we become complacent and instead of empathy we start to feel bitter and resentful.
When we are being supportive to someone experiencing trauma or suffering, we are utilizing empathy and emotional energy to listen, connect and guide them. This can cause the caregiver to experience our own physical, emotional and intellectual exhaustion. We may feel this impact very quickly when we are exposed to others stress and trauma, or it may occur after a period of time.
Signs of Compassion Fatigue
The following are some of the signs of compassion fatigue:
1. Being impatient, withdrawn, irritable, hyper vigilance, accident prone and losing things
2. There is excessive blaming of other people both in and outside of our families
3. We become overprotective as a spouse or parent
4. We experience chronic physical ailments like back pain, recurrent colds, and gastrointestinal problems
5. Rapid heartbeat, joint and muscle pains, impaired immune system, dizziness and disorientation
6. A deep sense of isolation and loneliness
7. Questioning the meaning of life, loss of purpose, lack of self-satisfaction, and questioning religious beliefs
8. Increased use of substances – alcohol, drugs, and/or prescribed medications
10. Disordered eating – overeating or restrictive eating — binge and purging
11. A change in personal hygiene – not showering, brushing hair, etc
12. Mentally and/or physically tired and apathetic
13. Sleep disturbances – recurring nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and a sense that you can never get enough sleep
14. Difficulty concentrating, perfectionism, preoccupation with trauma, self-doubt and/or minimization
15. Feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, guilt, anger/rage, survivor guilt, hypersensitivity, emotional roller coaster, overwhelmed, and/or depleted energy
16. Activities that were once enjoyed are no longer interesting
General Guidelines For Recovery From Compassion Fatigue
self-care ~~ self-care ~~ self-care ~~ self-care
As you may have noted, self-care is essential for recovery from compassion fatigue. It is vital to combat compassion fatigue before it grabs hold of you.
The following are some of the activities that you can engage in:
1. Set aside some time to be alone everyday. Taking a break from the emotions and demands of others is essential for our own peace of minds.
2. Choose nutritional foods. Our brains and bodies require the nutrition so that we can care for others. It is important to eat regular scheduled meals that are well-balanced.
3. Limit — or even better — eliminate alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intake.
Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the brain and the central nervous system’s processes. Alcohol may help deal with stress in the short-term, in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with.
Smoking may initially help people cope in the short-term, however it does not address the underlying causes of stress. Smoking will create greater health problems in the long-term. These health problems will increase your stress level. It really is a downward cycle.
Caffeine is a stimulant. When you ingest a limited amount it can help you improve your concentration. Ingesting too much can have an adverse effect on your body as well as on your mind. Too much of it will play havoc on your ability to focus. Any stimulant (including caffeine) carries with it the side effects of anxiety, increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, high body temperature, impairment of sleep and agitation. Caffeine in particular can make you feel nervous, jittery and unsettled.
4. Participate in regular exercise. Exercise will increase your overall health and sense of well-being.
5. Drink enough water. Staying hydrated makes you better equipped to handle the daily stressors in your life.
6. Avoid negative self talk. Words are powerful and can either help us or hinder us. Be kind to yourself.
Words Of Affirmation
Create a list of affirmation sentences. Daily read them out loud to yourself. This is medication to your spirit
Buy yourself a pretty notebook or journal. Make it a practice to write out at least five things that you are grateful for everyday. Some days will be tough and you will need to dig deep for the 5 things. With practice you will train your brain to daily look for the things that you are grateful for. In time you will be living with an attitude of gratitude.
7. Engage in creative and recreational activities. Take some time to play and enjoy life. The obligations and demands will still be there. When we take some time to play, we are restoring our batteries. This helps us see our situation with new eyes.
8. Talk. Create a support network that you can talk with. They may be co-workers, friends, your pastor, or even a professional counselor. Debrief your thoughts and feelings with someone who you can trust. It hinders us when we keep it all in.
9. Pray. You are not alone.
10. Find ways to focus on positive thoughts, beauty and nature. Take a nature walk or go to the lake and sit (be still).
11. Self-Refection. Self reflection combined with journaling is a powerful healing tool.
Caring For Yourself is Caring For Others
We can not give to others if we don’t have it to give. It is not selfish to care for yourself. In fact, it is more selfish to not care for yourself. When we take the time to fill our cups, we have the ability to be more productive and more giving than if our cups are empty. When our empathy and love tanks are refilled, we can not only help others in greater ways, we also will gain joy and purpose from doing so.
You Are Awesome
Being a caregiver is hard work and can be daunting. It is easy to slip into experiencing compassion fatigue. The good news is — you don’t have to stay stuck in it.
If you are struggling with compassion fatigue please begin by making the choice to start applying some (or even start with one) of the self-care activities listed in this article. With some self-care action on your part, you can climb out of the muck.
If you are a caregiver and have not yet experienced the signs of compassion fatigue, I want to encourage you to make it a practice to daily engage in self-care activities. These will help you manage the stress that comes with the role of being a care giver.
Remember — you are awesome! You are a gift to those that you care for. Being a caregiver is being a beacon of hope and love to those that you care for. You are inspiring and you are appreciated (even when it feels like you aren’t). Keep pressing forward my friend and be encouraged.
Be blessed 💞💞💞