Tuesday, February 9, 2021

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Most caregivers have probably heard about burnout, but many are unfamiliar with the concept of compassion fatigue and how these two conditions differ. Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm, Ph.D., a retired professor, and researcher in the field of traumatic stress, defines compassion as “feeling and acting with deep empathy and sorrow for those who suffer.” Family caregivers are often compassionate individuals by nature. This characteristic is typically considered an asset, but it leaves them at risk for the negative “costs of caring” for others. 

Unlike caregiver burnout, compassion fatigue is a secondary traumatic stress disorder that results from exposure to another person’s traumatic experience(s) and creates high levels of emotional stress. Compassion fatigue is primarily considered an occupational hazard for individuals who encounter stress and trauma in their work environments, such as nurses, mental health professionals, correctional workers, and child protection workers. In fact, it is a contributing factor in why many people in these fields leave their jobs to pursue other kinds of work. 

Unsurprisingly, family caregivers are also susceptible to this occupational hazard. Consider an adult child whose “job” is providing full-time care for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. They may not be administering high-level skilled nursing care, but they are still caring for someone in emotional and physical distress with limited options for providing comfort. While there are many similarities between professionals in high-stress jobs and family caregivers, the latter do not enjoy the same preventive measures that many employers offer, such as mental health days, peer support, and professional counseling.

Red flags to look for when is time to step in

How do you know if it is time for help at home or an increased level of care? Look for these red flags as common indicators that a senior may need assistance.

"A personal note from me, all of the signs mentioned below are what apply to my Mom's situation. The picture that I included in this post, is how I found her room not so long ago. Yes, things changed after that incident. 

Her level of care and assistance increased. It was a huge wake-up call for me and my sisters"

Difficulty Performing these Daily Activities:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing and grooming
  • Toileting
  • Continence

The essential Self-Care for caregivers

There are many red flags that point to the onset of burnout and especially compassion fatigue, but caregivers must know what signs to look for and be able to detect them in their own behavior in order to act on them. Both information and self-awareness are key to preventing long-lasting emotional issues and even stress-related physical illness.

Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue in Family Caregivers. Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and drained, avoidance and not wanting to be around your loved one (choosing to work late, daydreaming about no longer having to care for them, etc.) A decrease in patience and tolerance. Angry outbursts that are uncharacteristic of your behaviorCynicism and hopelessness. Heightened anxiety, impaired ability to make care decisions, difficulty sleeping. Physical symptoms, such as headaches or gastrointestinal issues. Using Self-Care to Prevent Compassion Fatigue.

If you begin noticing any of the above signs, the next step is to make yourself a priority and tend to, at the very least, some of your needs. Remember that compassion fatigue is not black and white—it is a continuum. Each caregiver has different limits, and there are times throughout the caregiving journey when one’s susceptibility to stress will increase and decrease. Many will experience these warning signs from time to time.

20-minute Indoor Walking Workout for Seniors, Beginner Exercisers

This 20-minute indoor walking workout will help improve your cardiovascular health by getting your heart rate up with exercises that work your entire body including your legs, glutes, core, and upper body. Perfect for seniors and beginner exercisers.

Marching or walking in place is the foundation for this workout. Fun dance moves mix things up. These exercises will also work on your balance and coordination, which is important to prevent falls, the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors.