Family caregivers have been struggling with caregiver burnout for longer than most can remember. “Compassion fatigue” was penned decades ago to describe the physiological effects experienced by professional caregivers. Today, the term has resurfaced in the health care field as the buzzword to describe the toll it has taken on caregivers as they battle the ups and downs of COVID-19.
Compassion fatigue is often referred to as caregiver burnout, but the conditions are not the same. Compassion fatigue is more treatable than burnout, but it can be less predictable. While compassion fatigue may come on suddenly or without much warning, caregiver burnout typically develops over time.
Some describe compassion fatigue as empathy fatigue, a biological and physiological response where you are so exhausted—physically, emotionally, psychologically—that it becomes difficult to care or feel for others. You feel “done.”
And the fatigue doesn’t stop when you’ve finished caregiving for the day. You plop on the couch, turn on the TV, and there it is—news of the pandemic crisis on every station. It’s in the headlines; it’s on the radio. It feels like there’s no escaping it.
“If you’re one of the thousands of family caregivers who are homeschooling your kids, working remotely, and caring for an aging parent in your home, you’re at risk for compassion fatigue. You may not wear a cape every day, but you are performing a feat that most people can’t do. Even superheroes need a break once in a while.”
How can you prevent compassion fatigue?
We must remember that caregiving during COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint. Pacing ourselves and using self-care tools are the best ways to care for ourselves as we weather the pandemic. If we don’t take care of ourselves when we need it, how can we care for others when they need it?
Check-in with yourself: What do you need right now?
The key is to check in with yourself often (yes, talk to yourself!), and be honest. Don’t “should” yourself. By removing the thoughts of what you “should,” do or “should” feel, you open yourself up to flexibility that can provide some relief. When checking in with yourself, ask, “What do I need right now? What can I give myself? How am I feeling? What's bothering me? What can I do about it?”
Sometimes your “giving reserve” may be short on funds, and you need to dial back on how much you give to others. When asking yourself these questions, respond to yourself as though you are caring for another person. Listen to your answers. Try not to put so many “shoulds” on your plate that it stresses you out even more. It’s okay to lighten your plate. It’s all about balance and getting yourself to a place where you feel good about taking time for yourself.
Recognize the warning signs
It’s also important to recognize the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue:
- Less interest in caregiving duties
- Feeling more stress
- Being traumatized by caregiving activities and functions
- Substance use/abuse
- Blaming others for your suffering
- Isolating yourself
- Loss of pleasure in life
- Difficulty concentrating
- Physical and mental fatigue
- Bottling up your emotions
- Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
- Frequent complaining
- Poor self-care
- Resentment toward the person you’re caring for
While these symptoms sound scary, they're actually helpful as they are telling you that your “giving reserves are low,” and sending a warning that it’s time to rebalance your life.
Respite care for family caregivers
While caring for your aging parent has been said to be a labor of love, it’s still a weight on you. As you spend more and more of your time caring for your aging parent, you may find yourself giving up favorite hobbies and vacations, saying no to friends, feeling distracted at work, and getting more stressed with your spouse and children. Over time, juggling caregiving with work, raising children, and managing a household increases your risk for depression, chronic illness, and a decline in your overall quality of life. And the stress of caring for a loved one while managing your family and household can lead to significant health issues, both physically and mentally. Add COVID-19 to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
You may not get enough sleep, eat poorly, skip regular exercise, keep going even when you’re not feeling well, or even postpone your medical appointments. If you’re a caregiver who neglects your health, you’re more likely to suffer from a chronic condition such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure and obesity. Caregiving can also take a toll on your mental health, with an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers suffering from clinical depression.
It’s time to pause and ask yourself: “What good will I be to the person I care for if I get sick?” As a caregiver, you must take good care of yourself—even while you are taking care of your aging loved one.
You deserve it
It is possible to take some much-needed time for yourself while meeting the needs of your senior parent through SYNERGY HomeCare’s respite care services.
What if you had one day each week all to yourself? How about two days? Imagine all the errands, activities, and appointments you’ve put on the back burner while caring for your aging loved one, and with COVID-19, maybe your children, too. That’s a lot of pressure, the kind that often leads to caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue.
As mentioned above, taking care of yourself is critical as the family caregiver. It’s okay to give yourself a break. You deserve it.
You can have a professional caregiver provide respite care for you one or two days a week so that you can keep your “giving reserve” full. SYNERGY HomeCare caregivers are trained in CDC-recommended COVID-19 safety protocols as well as dealing with every type of care scenario imaginable. It’s a peace of mind like you’ve never before experienced.
Compassion fatigue does not have to bring down the house. It’s not a disease; it’s a collection of symptoms that are manageable if you take action.