Coping With Compassion Fatigue: A Guide for Family Caregivers

Aside from the practical and physical demands of caregiving, being a parent or loved one’s family caregiver can be fraught with emotion. Aging often presents challenges that can be distressing for seniors and caregivers alike, and this can be true regardless of whether you care for your loved one at home or if they live in residential assisted living in Colorado Springs. When the emotional demands of caregiving become too much, family caregivers may be at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue in Family Caregivers – What is it?

Compassion fatigue – sometimes referred to as secondary or vicarious trauma, is experienced when a caregiver becomes traumatized by their loved one’s suffering or distress. Therefore, if a loved one you care for is very unwell, or if they’re struggling with their mental health or a bereavement, for example, you may be more at risk of compassion fatigue. This phenomenon is often confused with burnout, and while the symptoms can be similar, there is a key difference between the two: while burnout is typically caused by prolonged stress and competing demands of responsibilities, compassion fatigue is usually caused by the emotional strain of seeing a loved one suffering.

10 Signs of Compassion Fatigue

The symptoms of compassion fatigue may vary widely from person to person, and many of these symptoms can also be indicative of burnout. Here are just 10 of many physical and emotional signs of compassion fatigue:

  • Feeling physically drained or exhausted
  • Reduced feelings of empathy or sympathy
  • Reduced sense of meaning from caregiving, or starting to dread taking care of your loved one
  • Feelings of irritability or anger
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Having difficulties with sleeping
  • Withdrawing from personal relationships
  • Difficulties with productivity
  • Changes in appetite or digestive issues
  • Self-medication or addiction

Why is Caring for the Caregiver Important?

When acting as a family caregiver for a parent or loved one, it’s easy to push your own health and wellbeing aside to prioritize that of your relative. But maintaining your personal health is equally as important. Think about it like this: when you’re on a flight, they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Why? Because without providing yourself with oxygen first, you won’t be able to help anybody else. Caregiving is no different – by taking care of your own health, you will be much better equipped to care for your loved one.

5 Effective ways to Address Compassion Fatigue

  1. Take good care of your body with diet and exercise. Being a family caregiver is often highly demanding and time-consuming, and it’s understandable that self-care might get put on the backburner. But fuelling your body correctly and staying healthy will make you better able to tackle the physical and emotional demands caregiving can present. Try not to skip meals, no matter how busy you are – if you’ve found this to be an issue, prepping meals in bulk for the week can be a great timesaver. Incorporate plenty of nutrient rich foods like fruits and vegetables into your diet to support your immune health and boost energy levels. If you’re physically able, take up an exercise you enjoy, or commit to a short walk each day if you’re short on time.
  2. Prioritize high quality sleep. Getting high quality sleep can be tricky for family caregivers, especially if the loved one you care for requires 24-hour care at home. If possible, set a relaxing bedtime routine that will help you drift off as quickly as possible to maximize the amount of sleep you can get in the time you have. The benefits of a good night’s sleep are aplenty, from elevated mood and focus through to weight control, more stable blood sugar and improved heart health.
  3. Practice breath awareness or yoga for deep relaxation. Breathwork is an excellent way to immediately promote relaxation. Deep breathing can be beneficial even if practiced for 5 or 10 minutes, making it ideal for fitting into a busy caregiving schedule. You can practice breath awareness by simply finding a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and noticing the rhythm of your breath. Acknowledge distracting thoughts and simply allow them to pass, while bringing attention back to your breathing. It can also be useful to steady your breath using a count (for example 5-5-5: breathe in for 5, hold for 5, then breathe out for 5).
  4. Join a caregiver support group. Providing care for an aging parent or loved one can be isolating, and lack of social support is a pertinent issue for many family caregivers. Hospitals, residential assisted living facilities and local communities often host valuable family caregiver support groups. These groups may help you connect with others who understand the compassion fatigue you’re experiencing. If a support group isn’t for you, try to maintain close friendships and relationships.
  5. Delegate caregiving responsibilities. If you are your loved one’s primary source of care and support, you might be more at risk of feeling overwhelmed or experiencing secondary trauma. There might come a point when this no longer feels sustainable – perhaps your loved one’s needs have increased, or you’re struggling to balance providing care with your personal or work life. In this case, it may be useful to ask another family member or friend to help with caregiving responsibilities. If this is not a viable option, it might be time to look into professional support, like respite care, home health or residential assisted living.

If you’re considering residential assisted living in Colorado Springs or Pueblo West for your aging parent or loved one, get in touch with us today to arrange a tour tailored to their needs.