Compassion fatigue is the traumatic stress experienced by those who are spending significant time taking care of a loved one who is sick or in distress. When someone you know or love is going through a very hard time, that persistent empathy can cause compassion fatigue.
Most of the time, those who experience compassion fatigue are healthcare professionals like nurses or caregivers. But, it can also affect other individuals, like those who live with someone who is suffering. These feelings can even be triggered for people who regularly view content where people are in distress, like on social media or TV.
We asked the CaringBridge community of patients and caregivers about their experiences with this type of stress. Here are their tips to help you deal with compassion fatigue:
1. Take Care of Yourself
When you’re the person taking care of someone who’s much more in need than you are physically or emotionally, it’s easy to forget about your own needs. The needs of the person in distress can overshadow yours.
It’s important to make the effort to balance caregiving with self-care. That can include practicing your favorite hobbies, joining a support group, or simply spending time away from your loved one to recharge.
“I’m fortunate that I can still leave my husband alone if he is feeling OK. I will go to church, or take a walk to a coffee shop, or meet with friends for coffee. I also go to my home Bible study group. I’ve found that being around people socially is a great tension release.”
“I take care of two elderly 87 year old ladies. I make sure I sit alone every day for an hour and take time for me before I start my day.”
2. Embrace Spirituality
Many members of our community mentioned that they have some sort of spiritual practice like prayer or meditation.
The power of prayer and spirituality can be healing for many people. It can also be a way to connect with other loved ones by attending church together or starting a prayer chain.
“I prayed all of the time for mom and me.”
3. Get Adequate Sleep
Taking care of someone is emotionally and physically demanding. Getting the recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours) can give you the rest you need to feel refreshed and fight compassion fatigue symptoms.
4. Listen to Music
Many caregivers find it helpful to listen to music. In particular, research shows that listening to slow, quiet classical music can have an extremely relaxing effect on our minds and bodies. These tunes have the power to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and decrease your levels of stress hormones.
“ASMR, pet, music and nature therapy.”
5. Spend Time in Nature
Taking care of someone means spending a lot of time indoors. That’s why many people find it helpful to take a walk outside and connect with nature when they feel compassion fatigue.
Research has proven that spending time in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Like music, it can also improve your physical health by reducing blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension.
“My parents are 93 and 87 and do well enough that I can go to an occasional movie. But my favorite is taking a solo picnic up on the mountain and spend time just listening.”
Compassion Fatigue vs. Caregiver Burnout
If you aren’t sure if what you’re experiencing is compassion fatigue, keep in mind: caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue are sometimes confused to be the same condition. They both stem from spending time with someone in physical or emotional distress.
While caregiver burnout is specific to caregivers, compassion fatigue is more general and is characterized by feeling overwhelmed by the suffering of others. Compassion fatigue used to mostly plague health professionals who were constantly near people suffering, but with the rise of the Internet and smartphones, it can now impact anyone.
Common symptoms of compassion fatigue are: feelings of burden, isolation, guilt, insomnia, trouble concentrating and a sense of hopelessness. Some more severe symptoms can include depression and substance abuse.
Symptoms of caregiver burnout tend to be more related to the active stress of physically taking care of someone: body aches, migraines, severe exhaustion, depression, isolation and anxiety attacks.
Compassion Fatigue Truly Can Be Healed
We hope these tips from the CaringBridge community have offered some helpful guidance on how to deal with the fatigue that accompanies caring.
What other tips do you have for those feeling exhausted by compassion fatigue? Please share in the comments below!