Why Caregivers Need To Remember To Care For Themselves Too
Is it okay to feel like this? I’ve been doing this for a long time. I love them, but I just need a break. What’s wrong with me? I am a terrible person for feeling this way. If you have a family member or a friend with a disability and they often rely on you for help to make it through their daily activities, you may find yourself feeling guilty as you battle with a similar toxic inner monologue.
As terrible as it can feel to have these inherently selfish thoughts cascading through your mind, being a caregiver becomes much less stressful when you simply take a moment and accept these thoughts are human nature, and it is okay to have these kinds of thoughts. This mental struggle is so common among people who find themselves providing support and compassion for others day after day and week after week, it is a widely recognized condition. This internal struggle is often called compassion fatigue. The technical term for compassion fatigue is secondhand traumatic stress. Compassion fatigue is an umbrella term. Each caregiver will be affected differently.
You Are Not Alone
The brain is a muscle. Our mental abilities can be exhausted or worn-out just like our biceps or any other muscle in our body. Two thirds of professionals who work in fields that demand high levels of compassion will experience secondhand traumatic stress at some point during their career.
Whether you call it compassion fatigue or simply burnout, research dating back to 1950s has shown caregivers or those in positions which routinely require a high level of empathy have a propensity to become physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted by the nature of their work.
Signs of Compassion Fatigue
Many who deal with mental issues never realize there is anything wrong until the ailment has firmly taken hold and they begin to struggle with a trying combination of negative consequences. Mental struggles can layer on top of each other and become exponentially more severe if they are not remedied quickly or appropriately.
Caregivers need to be on the lookout for signs of secondhand traumatic stress to deal with potential issues before they compound and become a tangled web of trouble. Compassion fatigue can cause caregivers to develop insomnia, depression, increased irritability, excessive weight loss and the potential to develop addictions.
If these issues continue unchecked, it may cause caregivers or compassion professionals to begin a downward spiral through life and develop increasingly dangerous, self-destructive behaviors.
What You Can Do
If you are noticing yourself slipping into a bout of compassion fatigue or you are struggling through a full-blown epidemic of secondhand traumatic stress, there are things you can do to pull yourself out of your current state and prevent these problems from taking hold in the future.
It’s important to resist the temptation to push through compassion fatigue. Your job performance and mental symptoms will inevitably begin to worsen as time marches on. Boundaries are extraordinarily important for compassion professionals and caregivers. It’s a must to be able to separate the other parts of your life from the job you do. You have to be able to get away from your challenges, recharge and unload your stress.
Having a support system in place away from work or the environment where the demanding job is taking place is critical. Confiding in friends or family drastically reduces the effects of stress. Finding joy in a hobby or relaxation in recreational activities is a great way to ensure you take time away from the stress of being a caregiver or compassionate professional.