Ask TCV: How do I cope with compassion fatigue?
TCV: It is difficult. It is like walking on the tightrope of care.
As a professional (or family caregiver), you try to find that magical balance between being involved enough to provide compassionate care while fulfilling your own needs.
Yet, both family caregivers and caring professionals find it hard not to get involved; especially when feeling something for a loved one, patient, or client. When we feel something, the last thing we want to be is clinically detached. However, as professionals get more involved with clients, they risk suffering from empathic exhaustion–a kind of emotional fatigue from too much compassion.
As caregivers, we are interested in and involved in others’ lives. Helping others gives meaning.
Yet, stress can grow overwhelming among professionals and family caregivers who don’t balance their own needs while providing care; especially, while caring for a cognitively impaired individual with dementia.
Several Caregivers of the Month have received recognition for their undying commitment to provide care–for example, professionals coming into work during off time. Although, noteworthy, this comes at a risk of stress, burnout, and eventually drastic measures.
How can nurses, therapists, elder care providers, and family caregivers foresee this and take steps before we grow overwhelmed, potentially angry, or throw our hands in the air and give up?
The three-part answer to combating compassion fatigue.
Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s / care recipient’s disease/illness.
This is especially applicable to family caregivers. Knowing about your loved one’s disease takes off the blindfold of uncertainty and allows you to “map the illness” as you prepare for the journey of care.
Determine how you would like to be cared for IF you had the same disease or illness.
This is important for both family and professional caregivers. When you answer, “What kind of care would I want to receive IF I had this disease or illness?” your viewpoint changes dramatically. The burden upon your shoulders lifts. Your heart feels greater compassion and your exhaustion and frustrations diminish. Try this. The results are remarkable!
Take respite–if even five minutes.
If you can’t take five minutes, YOU NEED HELP. Ask for help. Hello, could you please visit awhile to look after ____ while I ____? Consider using adult day care.
There are more ways to deal with compassion fatigue. Start taking these easy steps NOW in order to have the strength to take other steps later.
Oftentimes, we see things as black or white with no shades of gray.
We either go all in and push ourselves beyond exhaustion until we burn out and walk away or die.
It’s time to stop forcing ourselves to live with extremes. There’s an “in-between” place where the three steps above give us a chance at surviving to provide years of compassionate care while even finding the JOY in caregiving.
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