When you spend weeks, months, sometimes years watching someone you love slowly deteriorate it has a grinding effect on you physically and emotionally. What is happening to you is called compassion fatigue, and it is commonly experienced by nurses and caregivers including family members and friends responsible for caring for someone living with, possibly dying from, or going through a serious illness.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
Also known as caregiver burnout, compassion fatigue has been described as “grieving by inches” when the stress and the strain of long-term care begin to wear you down. It can affect anyone. You don’t have to be a professional caregiver or even closely related to the person suffering from a long-term debilitating illness. Many family members or loved ones of patients living in assisted living facilities suffer from this medically diagnosed condition.
You can suffer from compassion fatigue even if the illness is short term. Some Alzheimer’s patients, for instance, gradually debilitate. To date, there is no cure and no way to reverse the effects of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. The pain of watching someone you love deteriorate before your eyes, some rapidly, can almost be too much to bear.
Problems Associated with Compassion Fatigue
Beyond that, financial stress, emotional distress, loneliness, and depression all contribute to compassion fatigue. The time investment that it takes to care for someone living with diminished capabilities alone can wear on you.
If your loved one lives far away, the commute can be grueling and difficult to do financially. Picking up the kids and making time for the things that you have to do start to take a back seat to the time that you spend at the assisted living facility. It can truly be overwhelming.
The last thing you need is to start falling apart yourself. The good news is that there are ways to better cope with the stress and anxiety that comes from caring for a loved one who needs constant care. Here are some useful tips from professionals and other long-term caregivers that will help you cope with and overcome compassion fatigue.
How to Handle Compassion Fatigue
1. Take a Day Off
Every week, take a day or two off to recharge and get away. This gives your mind a mental break from the constant worry and sadness.
2. Let Go of the Guilt
You may feel terrible for not being there, even for a day, but your health depends on giving yourself an entire day off at least once per week. You are doing all that you can.
3. Truly Get Away
Don’t just take the day off physically; take the day off mentally and truly get away. Go to lunch or dinner with your friends, your spouse, or your kids alone and truly get away from the hospital or nursing home for a moment. Take a vacation, if you can!
4. Take a Moment to Breathe
Let the stress out, talk about it with someone close to you, pray about it – you have to let it out. Otherwise, it will manifest itself in bad habits like smoking or overeating.
5. Ask for Help
There are other family members or friends that you could probably call on to step in for a day or two a week. Make it a family responsibility so that no one is carrying the stress all on their own.
There are community resources designed to help you care for your loved ones and to take the strain off of yourself for a while. At Unlimited Care Cottages, we understand the drain that compassion fatigue can place on your body, both physically and mentally. We’re here to help you cope. Contact us to learn more about caregiver burnout and how to find the time you so desperately need to take care of YOU.