As a caregiver, you may find yourself facing a host of new responsibilities, many of which are unfamiliar or intimidating. You may work hard getting help and assistance for others while ignoring your own needs. Over time, the stress of helping others can cause symptoms.
Caregiving can be stressful. Learning ways to manage the stress and emotional demands can protect your health and help you be a better caregiver.
Preventing compassion fatigue
Prevention is the best strategy against compassion fatigue. Practicing a few basic stress resilience skills can help you be a stronger and healthier caregiver. They won't take away the problems you face, but they may help avoid burnout and harmful emotions.
- Prioritize time to care for your body, mind and spirit every day.
- Learn ways to calm your body and mind.
- Try to pay attention to your personal stress signals and stop the stress response from building up.
- Talk to someone you trust, sharing your thoughts and worries.
- Recognize and express the range of feelings you may be having.
- Tend to the basics: sleep as much as possible, eat nutritious food, exercise and avoid overusing alcohol and medications.
- Try to keep your thoughts constructive. Uncertainty can be hard to bear, and can lead to racing thoughts and wild worries.
- Take frequent breaks.
Signs of compassion fatigue
Compassion fatigue can happen slowly over time or come on suddenly if stress and exhaustion build without an outlet. The signs vary among individuals and include:
- Nervousness and anxiety — Being fearful about going out or hypervigilant about your own and your family's safety
- Anger and irritability — Arguing with others, or feeling angry with specific people or groups
- Mood swings. Having difficulty controlling emotions (One minute you might be fine and find yourself suddenly crying or anxious the next.)
- Difficulty concentrating — Having trouble maintaining focus or making simple decisions
- Changes in habits — Eating or sleeping more or less than usual, or detaching from others emotionally
- Physical changes — Having headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or cold or flu-like symptoms
- Depression — Feelings of sadness, grief, low self-esteem, loss of interest in ordinary activities, memory difficulties, extreme fatigue or frequent crying episodes
Compassion fatigue is a normal response to extreme stress. It is not a weakness or failure. It indicates that you need more emotional and practical support and respite time for yourself. It's important to reach out and get help promptly if you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities. Assistance is available for caregivers, and you are as important as the people you are helping.
The stress and rewards of caregiving go hand in hand. But if you ever feel overwhelmed, talk with a professional who may be able to suggest ways to help your loved one without neglecting your own needs. You can talk with a health care professional or contact a non-medical counselor through Military OneSource at 800-342-9647. You can also access confidential, non-medical counseling services through the Military and Family Life Counseling Program. More information is available at your installation Military and Family Support Center.