Knowing the Limits
Caring for others is often driven by motivations of love and understanding. It’s not uncommon for family carers to initially feel that their capacity for helping those they love is nearly limitless. From taking care of finances and managing medications to preparing meals and cleaning, there’s certainly a sense of fulfillment that comes along with assisting a loved one. But many find themselves going through the motions of caring without taking time out to focus on their own needs. This is often to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. As a result, family carers may feel something they’ve never experienced before: decreased empathy. This condition is known as compassion fatigue.
In decades past, compassion fatigue was seen primarily in healthcare professionals. This should hardly come as a surprise considering the profession involves constantly helping patients who are suffering or experiencing diminished quality of life. As Ireland’s ageing population continues to grow, there are many family carers who are left feeling much the same way.
In addition to the lower threshold of empathy, family carers experiencing compassion fatigue may feel the following:
- Exhaustion (physical and/or emotional)
- Feelings of dread or guilt
- Irritability, anxiety, or anger
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty making decisions.
- Feeling disconnected
- Trouble finding meaning in caring.
The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Program and Compassion Fatigue Ireland note that the worst symptom of compassion fatigue is denial because it prohibits family carers from examining the feelings associated with their caregiving situation. If ignored for an extended period, family carers may begin to feel resentment toward their loved one. Ultimately this leads to a communication breakdown and strained relationship.
Outside relationships suffer as well. In a collaborative research study with the Stanford Center on Longevity and Comfort Keepers Global, it was indicated that those responsible for a loved one with a severe illness experience poor emotional wellbeing because of their inability to properly maintain their social lives. The results of the study highlight the increasing need for family carers to not only acknowledge their compassion fatigue, but also take steps toward self-care. Doing so can certainly help the family carer, but it will also help mend the relationship with their loved one.
What to Do Next
Below are a few steps that family carer can take to combat compassion fatigue and get back to feeling positive about caring for their loved ones.
- Understand the common signs of compassion fatigue (listed above) and acknowledge them if they occur.
- Practice a self-care routine that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and consistent sleep.
- Create dedicated time to spend with friends and maintain social connections.
- Find a carer support program, either in your community or online.
- Document your thoughts and feelings related to caring in a journal.
- Choose healthy activities during your downtime (e.g., go for a walk, meditate, or practice a favorite hobby or sport).
- Discuss your feelings with a counsellor or therapist.
Comfort Keepers Can Help
Caring for others, especially those who have been instrumental in our upbringing, can be uniquely rewarding. At Comfort Keepers, we value the relationships family carers have with their loved ones, and it’s our goal to help maintain them. We offer respite care and elderly care services that help family carers take the time they need to practice self-care, with peace of mind that their loved ones are receiving quality assistance.
Learn more about our respite care and elderly care services by contacting a local office today.
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