By Pamela D Wilson CSA, CG, MS, BS/BA
Who imagined that a term would be developed to describe the feelings of frustration, overwhelm, anger, exasperation and the guilt one feels as a result of the role of caregiving? Caregivers experiencing impatience or feeling worn down or burned out can now explain to others that they are experiencing “compassion fatigue”. The dictionary describes compassion fatigue as exhaustion, emotional distress or apathy resulting from the constant demands of caring for others.
Compassion fatigue may be compared to battle fatigue (honestly are there not days when the act of caregiving seems like a battle?), which is a military term for an acute reaction to the stress of battle, commonly involving fatigue, slowed reaction times and indecision. Caregivers tell me that they feel exhausted, move slowly on any given day and have a very difficult time making decisions.
Making decisions in care situations, either for you or another person, can be an intimidating and exhausting experience. When you don’t know what you don’t know — how is it possible to know if you are examining all of the potential considerations or options?
Caregiver burnout, or compassion fatigue, also results when caregivers feel that there is no break or escape from a care situation. While some of these situations are self-created, “I didn’t think caregiving would last this long,” or “I only wanted to be helpful and now my life is consumed by caregiving,” others are situations of no other family member available to provide support.
As a caregiver an important decision to make is to care for you and to take a break from caregiving. Many caregivers, who experience caregiver burnout, see their situations as isolated and unusual. Most caregiving situations have many commonalities and this is easily discoverable when a caregiver joins an online or in person support group. Situations that once seemed stressful may become amusing and less serious when also experienced by others.
Respite, or the process of taking a break, is important to resolving feelings of compassion fatigue. Even if a break is only for an afternoon or a weekend, removing oneself from a situation of care has the potential to change a caregiver’s outlook, relieving feelings of compassion fatigue.
If after taking a break, feelings of dread return, then it is time to make the next decision to retain outside support in the way of an advocate who is able to evaluate your care situation and provide recommendations. While it is possible to provide a great deal of care for a short period of time, sustaining this level of care and support may be detrimental to your health and to the well-being of your loved one.
Know that considering other options when compassion fatigue becomes overwhelming is a wise decision rather than a path to guilt. It is important for caregivers to set boundaries as to the ability to provide care so that family relationships with care recipients are preserved rather than damaged by the stressors of caregiving. This will help with minimizing the effects of caregiver burnout. Determining a path to resolution is a choice that only you can make. Preserving your health and family relationships is also a choice that can be accomplished by identifying situations that result in stress, reviewing options and making a plan.
If you or your family has arrived at a situation of burnout or frustration, and you are wondering what support exists, contact me for a FREE 15 minute consultation. Click Here.
©2014 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.