Compassion Fatigue – What is it?

Compassion fatigue is a well known occupational hazard for those in the caring profession.

If it can happen to those in the caring field, imagine what it can be like for family caregivers!

Compassion fatigue is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion with a profound decrease in the ability to empathize. It is considered a form of traumatic stress.

So what exactly is compassion fatigue? It is a term that is often confused with burnout, but the two conditions are not the same. Compassion fatigue may suddenly present without warning, whereas burnout usually develops over time.

It is essential to protect ourselves as care partners from compassion fatigue first of all by understanding how it affects us.

Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Dreading your day and feeling guilty as a result.
  • Feeling irritable, angry or anxious
  • Feeling removed from your loved one
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss or gain from a poor diet
  • Impaired decision making

So what can we do to self treat these symptoms?

Self-care is the most critical step we can take to offset the signs of compassion fatigue.

In my work with care partners, I stress this always. Self-care can look different for each of us, but it should generally include:

  • A balanced and nutritious diet
  • Plenty of water
  • Some regular exercise; even a short daily walk
  • A routine of restful sleep
  • Honoring what you need emotionally

A care partner I work with recently confided that she loves to go shopping. She was sheepish about this but “so what?”. Whatever it is that you enjoy, try to find time for it! If you are reading this and insist that you can’t possibly fit these things into your life, then it’s time to get help. Talk with the care agencies in your area to find what is available to you.

Caring for yourself with the same level of commitment that you have for your loved one is non-negotiable if you expect to continue this journey.

By Cheryl Hutto

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