Caring for a child, a disabled sibling, an ailing spouse or an elderly parent can take a huge emotional toll on the caregiver. Caregiving is an act of compassion that can lead one to an unsustainable level of selflessness; and in this selflessness, cause damaging, long-term effects on the caregiver. Whether you believe asking for help is a sign of weakness or have convinced yourself that you are the only one capable of adequately providing the level of care you perceive is needed, you unwittingly set yourself up for experiencing the exhaustion, stress, frustration and isolation that it can create.
In medical circles, the ultimate fatigue and burnout that this situation can create is referred to as ‘Compassion Fatigue’. This develops out of the demanding nature of showing ongoing compassion for somebody whose circumstances are likely not going to improve. The caregiver may go through the motions of continuing to care for the loved one but, over time, the compassion diminishes.
In the worst case scenario, this can lead to neglect and/or abuse of the loved one requiring the care!
Some of the warning signs that you may be suffering from compassion fatigue are: Abusing drugs, alcohol or food; anger; blaming; depression; hopelessness; emotional and/or physical exhaustion; GI complaints; frequent headaches; sleep disturbance; diminished sense of personal accomplishment; increase irritability and; less ability to feel joy.
Caregivers need, and deserve, a healthy personal life. When a caregiver makes the effort to keep a balance between their empathy and their objectivity, they are able to realize the need for and to create a healthier self-care plan.
Set aside some time to nurture yourself. When the caregiver is rested, energized and in a positive frame of mine, the caregiving load becomes a bit lighter. Taking this time for yourself may feel selfish and unnatural at first, but commit to doing at least one thing each day that is focused on your enjoyment and benefits your sense of well-being.
Identify the things about caregiving that cause you the most stress. Look for ways to eliminate them as much as possible or make sure that you create a routine that allows you to balance those activities with things that you may enjoy or at least find less stressful. Don’t line up all of the stressful activities in a row; break them up and spread them out!
When you are feeling overwhelmed and are juggling too many balls in the air, know your limits. That’s the time to take a moment to prioritize those ‘to-do’ items and determine what really must be done and what can wait awhile or be eliminated altogether. Taking these few moments to do this may give you back a small feeling of control in the situation and help to eliminate some of the frustration.
Validate your commitment to providing good care to your loved one by reaching out for some help! Preventing ‘compassion fatigue’ is going to allow you to provide the good care that you want to offer. Far from being a weakness, asking for the help you require is a sign of strength in knowing what your own needs are.
So, do more than just survive the emotional grinder of caregiving. Prevent compassion fatigue by keeping your own needs as part of the caregiver equation. Both you and your loved one will reap the benefits!
On the journey with you…….Kathy