Caring for others can be a beautiful, rewarding experience of love and compassion. In many cases, a caregiver’s social circle of friends and family often provides praise and encouragement. Caregivers often report friends and family saying things like, “I have so much respect for how much you care for others.” Or, “It’s beautiful how much work you do for [so-and-so]; they really need the support.” But, there is another aspect of caretaking that is not frequently mentioned, but rather avoided. Compassion fatigue is defined as, “Physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those who care for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time.”
Caregiving takes many forms. Sometimes you become a caretaker in your professional work, by caring for children in foster care, through nursing, emergency response services, or home health services, among many other avenues. Many people also become caretakers in their personal lives, as well. This can include caring for someone with a physical or mental health disability, or caring for a terminally-ill family member. Maybe in the beginning of providing care you experienced something called “Holy Compassion,” or feeling as if you are morally excellent, while loving the care you’re able to give. Over time, though, the Holy Compassion can turn into Empty Compassion, leaving you drained, and feeling as though a part of you is missing or incomplete.
The good news is that we don’t have to get stuck within the throes of compassion fatigue. The first step to healing is through recognizing symptoms, and knowing that your experience is real, and important. Symptoms can vary from person to person.
Compassion fatigue symptoms include:
- Feeling mentally and physically tired
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Substance abuse
- Bottling up emotions
- Apathy toward daily activities
- Isolation, and even denial
- Compassion fatigue usually leads to a poor self-care plan, further hindering your ability to fully heal.
Self-care is a critical way to battle compassion fatigue. This includes both physical and emotional self-care. This sounds simple, but can seem difficult when practicing. In much the same way, it is easier to watch a cooking show than to put a recipe into practice in the kitchen. The same is true with self-care. Physical self-care includes exercise and proper nutrition. Water is an often overlooked remedy, but is critical to both physical and mental health. Emotional health is often neglected in caretakers, as well. Being vulnerable can be scary for anyone, but caregivers – in particular – struggle because of the need to maintain an image of confidence and strength to the people they are serving. This is why one key to self-care is building up a support network. Develop relationships where your feelings can be validated. Learn to take charge of your schedule and say no when needed to activities that are not life-giving. These are a few strategies to begin the process of healing from compassion fatigue.
GR Therapy group is providing an eight-week study regarding compassion fatigue. Caretaking is not a sprint, but a marathon. It is our hope that this group can help support you during a time of compassion fatigue, and encourage steps to experiencing a life-changing difference.