Managing Caregiver Burnout (Compassion Fatigue)

Caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue is profound emotional and physical erosion when the caregiver is unable to refuel and regenerate. Feeling “burned out” is physical and emotional exhaustion.

It is possible to transform caregiver burnout and build resilience:

  • Acknowledge the Compassion Fatigue in your life and take responsibility for your own wellness and nurture your capacity to help.
  • Reduce the number of sources and types of stress to increase resiliency. This can be done by cutting back on things in your life that are stressful (seeking out supports and resources and delegating what you can) and establishing strategies or things you can do that help make the stress that is left more tolerable. This can include finding ways to take “me” breaks and engage in activities aimed to give you pleasure or aimed at helping you to reduce tension and relax, like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, massage, etc.
  • Address your own primary trauma issues. This involves first identifying and dealing with what causes your batteries to run low. For some this may include not sleeping, taking on too much, forgetting to eat, suppressing your own pain or grief to support your loved one, etc. The next step is finding ways to reduce the trauma input in your own life. This can be as simple as not watching the nightly news or asking a friend not to tell you all about their terrible day. It is about finding ways to “lessen your load” as fatigue requires rest. 

Caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue is profound emotional and physical erosion when the caregiver is unable to refuel and regenerate. Feeling “burned out” is physical and emotional exhaustion.

It is possible to transform caregiver burnout and build resilience:

  • Acknowledge the Compassion Fatigue in your life and take responsibility for your own wellness and nurture your capacity to help.
  • Reduce the number of sources and types of stress to increase resiliency. This can be done by cutting back on things in your life that are stressful (seeking out supports and resources and delegating what you can) and establishing strategies or things you can do that help make the stress that is left more tolerable. This can include finding ways to take “me” breaks and engage in activities aimed to give you pleasure or aimed at helping you to reduce tension and relax, like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, massage, etc.
  • Address your own primary trauma issues. This involves first identifying and dealing with what causes your batteries to run low. For some this may include not sleeping, taking on too much, forgetting to eat, suppressing your own pain or grief to support your loved one, etc. The next step is finding ways to reduce the trauma input in your own life. This can be as simple as not watching the nightly news or asking a friend not to tell you all about their terrible day. It is about finding ways to “lessen your load” as fatigue requires rest. 

Caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue is profound emotional and physical erosion when the caregiver is unable to refuel and regenerate. Feeling “burned out” is physical and emotional exhaustion.

It is possible to transform caregiver burnout and build resilience:

  • Acknowledge the Compassion Fatigue in your life and take responsibility for your own wellness and nurture your capacity to help.
  • Reduce the number of sources and types of stress to increase resiliency. This can be done by cutting back on things in your life that are stressful (seeking out supports and resources and delegating what you can) and establishing strategies or things you can do that help make the stress that is left more tolerable. This can include finding ways to take “me” breaks and engage in activities aimed to give you pleasure or aimed at helping you to reduce tension and relax, like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, massage, etc.
  • Address your own primary trauma issues. This involves first identifying and dealing with what causes your batteries to run low. For some this may include not sleeping, taking on too much, forgetting to eat, suppressing your own pain or grief to support your loved one, etc. The next step is finding ways to reduce the trauma input in your own life. This can be as simple as not watching the nightly news or asking a friend not to tell you all about their terrible day. It is about finding ways to “lessen your load” as fatigue requires rest. 
  • Schedule times in your day aimed solely at giving you comfort, support and relaxation. This can include a quiet cup of tea, a 15 minute walk around your block to enjoy the sun or 5 minutes of just deep breathing.
  • Create a self care plan. What small step can you take this week to take better care of yourself? Contact an old friend for dinner? Exercise more? Eat better? Drink less?  Say “no” more often?  Make a plan and revisit it regularly. The idea is to begin to become aware of your own needs and making those needs a priority. There is nothing selfish about self care. In order to effectively care for others we need to learn to care for ourselves.

Compassion Fatigue may be the cost of caring, but once identified and steps are taken to address concerns, you will begin to notice your patience, caring and compassion return. You will notice yourself feeling able to take on new responsibilities and feeling better able to manage present issues.

Compassion Fatigue is a process and generally so is healing from its effects. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself time without expectations of how long this process will take.

Strategies that help you avoid compassion fatigue:

  1. Monitor yourself for stress related signs and symptoms.
  2. Create periods of rest and renewal in your life.
  3. Avoid perfectionism.
  4. Practice setting limits; accept your own limitations.
  5. Develop good time-management skills.
  6. Nurture a personal support system, both inside and outside of work.
  7. Develop healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits. Be in tune with your body; identify the ways in which your body tells you that you are stressed.
  8. Acknowledge the strengths and gifts you bring to your work.
  9. Maintain a therapeutic distance between yourself and others’ grief. Know the difference between having empathy, kindness and sensitivity towards your patients vs. emotional over-involvement. Assess your own sense of boundaries with family.
  10. Learn to say “no” to unreasonable demands. Do not view being assertive about your own needs as negative.
  11. Take responsibility for your problems only. Distinguish between problems you’re responsible for and problems that another has to cope with alone, or with someone else other than you. Review any promises you make under stress.
  12. Be patient with your colleagues and family and the processes that they need to go through. Try to understand them.
  13. Allow yourself to grieve. Ask yourself what is most helpful in order to process your grief.

A SELF CARE MANIFESTO

I deserve to lead a joyful, whole life. No matter how much I love and value caregiving, mylife is multifaceted. My family, my friends, my other interests and my spirituality also deserve my time and attention. I deserve my time and attention.

I am not the only one who can help the dying and bereaved.When I feel indispensable, I tend to ignore my own needs. There are many talented caregivers in my community who can also help the dying and the bereaved.

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