The term compassion fatigue is used in popular culture to describe the feeling of being jaded by the amount of charitable appeals one experiences daily. It can also be a sense of numbness towards the plethora of news stories and disturbing images we encounter through television and social media.
Yet, compassion fatigue has another form, and one that is familiar to people working in caring situatons or roles that demand prolonged contact with people experiencing trauma. This can be a professional role, such as nursing or child protection, or a home caregiver.
It’s common for people to feel tired, exhausted, frustrated, guilty and like you don’t have much time to be you when the majority of your time is spent looking after someone else. No-one expects you to be on top form all of the time, even if you expect it of yourself.
Burnout is a prolonged sense of fatigue that comes from doing everything all the time. Burnout can affect your sleep, general mood, social life and desire for food.
If you feel stressed, depressed, and like you are having negative feelings towards the person you take care of, or if you have noticed you are hitting the bottle more than usual, then you could be experiencing some form of burnout.
If this is the case, you really need to take a break from your responsibilities, even if it’s just for a few hours to get you back on track and think about ways you can relieve yourself of some of your excessive task list.
Compassion fatigue can lead on from burnout and is essentially you suffering trauma by-proxy. As well as burnout symptoms, you can feel a sense of depersonalisation (like your thoughts or emotions don’t belong to you, or you just don’t feel connected to the world around you), indifference towards the person you are caring for, a high state of anxiety all the time and pains that mimic the pain of the person you are caring for. If the way you are treating the person in your care verges on aggressive, or if you are not normally prone to anger but you find yourself shouting more and more, this is a sign you need to make changes for the good of both parties.
If you are developing any of the following symptoms, make sure you prioritise some time out ASAP.
- Excessive tiredness or fatigue
- Finding excuses to stay away from the person in your care
- Prolonged anxiety
- Shouting or losing your temper easily
What you can do if you feel you are suffering with burnout or compassion fatigue.
- Stop beating yourself up about negative emotions.
- Have some time away from caring to rest and recover.
- Take time out to do something that makes you feel positive and like yourself again.
- Keep a diary where you can be completely yourself. Express everything openly and honestly.
- Talk to an expert about how you’re feeling.
- Find a support group that can empathise.
- Eat well, sleep well and exercise for fifteen minutes each day, even if it’s just taking the dog for a walk.
- Learn as much as you can about burnout, compassion fatigue and all accompanying symptoms. Knowledge is the first step to getting better.
- Take advantage of Me2U Centre’s dementia day care facility. Whether you need a full day off or just part of it, you can feel confident that your loved one is in good hands while you get a well-earned break.