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Dealing with Compassion Fatigue

Golden LivingCenters | posted September 11, 2014 | Bookmark and Share

While the old adage “it’s better to give than receive” often keeps caregivers going, eventually a caregiver can find themselves trying to give out of an empty cup. If you are caring for a loved one for an extended period of time, the love you feel for this person can turn into resentment over losing a part of your own life in the process.

How can you curb compassion fatigue?

See the problem

First, recognize the main symptoms of this challenge. Some symptoms can be very obvious – financial difficulties, loss of employment or even turning to smoking, drinking and other addictive behaviors. However, others may be harder to detect and could include becoming withdrawn, sad, irritable and just feeling like you are “going through the motions.”

Taking a small bit of time each day to do something for yourself can help. If you can do one thing to help your body, mind and spirit every day, this can lead to a much more hopeful outlook on the critical work you are doing to care for others or a loved one.

Sleep deprivation?

For the body, make sure you are getting enough sleep. While you may need to be awake around the clock to help with medications, feeding or other issues with your loved one, see if there are measures you can take to get six to eight hours of sleep at least three times a week.

Eating well

Eating properly also can help mitigate stress too. Often caregivers are not eating enough or eating foods that are not providing the right nutrients to keep them going. Keep healthy snacks handy like nuts, fruit or trail mix that can help give you energy when you may be pressed for time. Make a point to eat a full breakfast and lunch that have plenty of protein and fruits or vegetables. If you are relying on carbonated beverages or energy drinks to function, this also can drain your energy level long term. Try to cut consumption of those in at least half and substitute with additional water and fruits.

Walk around the block

Exercise can get the endorphins pumped and help elevate your mood. Taking a brisk walk around the block or even a walk around the grounds of the hospital or facility can provide a brief reprieve from your caregiving activities. Never underestimate the value of “getting some fresh air” into your system.

Focus on the positive

More than half the battle of caregiver fatigue can be mental and spiritual. On the one hand, you may be emotionally fighting the possibility of ultimately losing your loved one to their condition. On the other hand, you may be ignoring other loved ones in favor of the one who needs your care too. This often happens to the “sandwich generation” who simultaneously are caring for elderly parents while also rearing and supporting their own children. Finding that balance can be a struggle in and of itself, but taking a moment to focus on the positive aspects of your world can help put things into perspective.

Practice gratitude

There’s a line in a Steve Martin movie when he despondently proclaims, “Everything in my life is a ‘have to.’” Feeling trapped by your surroundings contributes to depression and stress more than you may realize. Flipping the equation and seeing everything you do as a choice can alleviate this stress. Saying a small “thank you” as you perform your daily routine can do wonders for your attitude. No matter how bad it may seem, it could be worse. Or it could be better. Right now is what it is, and you have the choice to see the world as a gift or a burden. What in your world can you genuinely feel grateful to have? It may just be the cup of coffee you are drinking or that you still have the ability to breath fresh air or see a beautiful sunset.

Start where you are and realize that even the smallest steps each day can do wonders for the body and soul. How are you providing care to others makes a world of difference to them, and in the end, you may find it was exactly what you were put on this Earth to do.

We are inspired each and every day at the caregivers that provide comfort and care to our patients, residents and their families. Thank you. 

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