Compassion Fatigue vs Caregiver Burnout

compassion fatigue vs caregiver burnout

Caregiving can become a one-way, energetic street. This means the majority of the caregiver’s emotional and energetic resources funnel to their clients, without any chance for the caregiver to restore and recharge her/himself.  

In the beginning phases, this is referred to as compassion fatigue. Over time, if caregivers aren’t given the breaks they need to recharge their own batteries, it morphs into caregiver burnout – and that’s a dangerous destination. 

Enlisting the support of qualified respite care is the single best thing caregivers and their families can do to prevent fatigue or burnout.  

Compassion (Caregiver) Fatigue: Are you at risk?

Seniorlink.com defines caregiver fatigue as occurring: 

“…when the caregiver feels physically, emotionally, and physically exhausted, often leading to a change in attitude. Negative feelings toward the job and the care recipient often accompany the mind state, sometimes causing feelings of resentment.” 

Anyone who serves as a caregiver is at risk for compassion, or caregiver, fatigue. Parents of minor children often “suffer” from compassion fatigue at a certain level because so much of their energetic resources are poured into their families. In fact, those who find themselves in “the sandwich generation,” caring for children at home and aging parents, are, particularly at risk. 

Caregiving for someone who is chronically/terminally ill or a senior loved one/relative puts you at heightened risk for caregiver fatigue. Eventually, if you don’t find a way to meet your own needs, caregiver fatigue leads to burnout (more on that below).  

IMPORTANT NOTE: Caregivers are often the last to notice they’re experiencing caregiver fatigue because it can creep up on you. Read this article with your spouse, partner, and loved ones. If they recognize the signs of fatigue and potential caregiver burnout, they can help you get the support you need. 

Signs of Caregiver or Compassion Fatigue 

The most common signs of caregiver fatigue are: 

  • Constant feeling of exhaustion or lack of energy 
  • Difficulty focusing 
  • Trouble sleeping or falling asleep (the brain keeps racing) 
  • Missing or forgetting your personal or family appointments, obligations, extracurricular activities, etc. 
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, or activities you use to enjoy 
  • Unexpressed (repressed) feelings of anger, resentment, frustration 
  • Being short or terse with the ones you love (family, friends, and even the loved one you take care of my say, “You don’t seem like yourself…” 
  • A feeling that you are the only one who can do this job so you just need to buck up and do it (micromanaging/control/my way is the best way) 

That final bullet point is key. The truth is that while you may certainly be “the best” at taking care of the one you love, you are not the only one who can care for them. Letting go and allowing others to help is one of the best things you can do to prevent caregiver fatigue from becoming complete burnout. 

Caregiver Burnout: The end of the road 

Caregiver burnout is similar to fatigue in how it initially expresses itself, but everything is magnified. More specifically, the anger and resentment you feel towards the person requiring your care, and/or the people you feel should be helping out but aren’t. 

Signs of more severe burnout include: 

  • Complete insomnia 
  • Lack of interest in activities or people you used to enjoy 
  • Uncontrolled depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc. 
  • Rage, anger, resentment that comes out at those around you 
  • Headaches and stomach ailments 
  • Exacerbated health issues 
  • Feelings of complete suicide 
  • A desire to harm the person your taking care of and/or yourself 

Sadly, senior neglect and abuse are far more likely to occur if a caregiver is overwhelmed, depleted, and burned out.  

Self-Care Tips for Caregivers 

There are so many things you can do, both large and small, to nourish yourself and prevent fatigue and burnout.  

Create a caregiving schedule to help with compassion fatigue

Don’t start out being a full-time caregiver without a schedule that accommodates some days/times off. These allow you to rest, recharge, attend personal appointments/social engagements, etc. These days/times off are called “respite care shifts” and respite care is available in many forms: 

Nourish yourself in the day-to-day 

People see or hear the words, “self-care” and they immediately imagine massages, mani/pedis, or a weekend retreat. All of those are lovely, but the average spouse/parent/caregiver can’t take advantage of those luxuries on a regular basis.  

What you can do is take care of yourself on a daily basis via nourishing, healthy foods, deep breaths, gentle stretches (Click Here to “take” a FREE, 30-minute, restorative yoga class at home), taking a walkout in nature, etc. Make these non-negotiables in your routine and it will help to keep your body recharged and restored. 

Avoid stimulants 

It may be tempting to drink more coffee or caffeinated tea to give you energy on those slow, sluggish, or exhausting days. In fact, drinking caffeine or using other stimulants can prevent you from getting the rest and sleep you need. Plus, it fuels a higher heart rate and can exacerbate feelings of anxiety or an inability to focus. 

Sleep when your client/loved one sleeps 

When at all possible, nap when your client naps. Or, if you can’t sleep, at least lay or sit quietly while your mind and body relax and recharge. If you are taking care of someone with dementia/Alzheimer’s or demanding needs that make it impossible to catch up on house chores, explore options and have chores done by someone else so you can be attentive when the individual is awake and can rest easy when they’re sleeping – without the feeling that there are things you need to get done around the house. 

Take A Load Off And Give Us A Call

HomeAide Home Care is a licensed, Bay Area senior care agency that understands how important respite care is to the wellbeing of primary caregivers. Contact us to explore your options so we can help you prevent caregiver fatigue and burnout. Our in-home assessments are always free.

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