Those who care for aging loved ones are often thrust into a family caregiver role suddenly and without time to prepare, adapt or adjust. Even if the transition from child, grandchild or loved one to family caregiver has been more gradual, it’s likely that you have not received any training or guidance on how to practically and emotionally cope with such a role.

When a senior moves to residential assisted living in TN, their professional caregivers will have received months or even years of training to help them cope with a role that can be both challenging and emotionally demanding. On the contrary, family caregivers often receive little support, despite taking on a significant and hands-on role in their loved one’s care.

While being a family caregiver can be rewarding and deeply fulfilling, it can also be extremely emotionally challenging. Burnout is often spoken about when discussing the difficulties caregiving can present, but compassion fatigue is less widely recognized.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue occurs when a family caregiver becomes traumatized or upset by the suffering their loved one is experiencing, and can emerge gradually or very suddenly. You may be more vulnerable to developing compassion fatigue if your loved one is dealing with mental health issues, bereavement, or extreme distress due to dementia, for example.

Compassion fatigue centers around the distanced experience of trauma, and as a result is sometimes referred to as secondary trauma. With family caregivers typically being highly caring and empathetic individuals, it’s easy to see why compassion fatigue is so common.

How Does Compassion Fatigue Differ From Burnout?

It’s a common misconception that compassion fatigue and burnout are the same thing, but there are key differences between the two. While family caregivers may be more at risk of developing both compassion fatigue and burnout, they are not the same thing.

Burnout is typically caused by the excessive practical demands of juggling care with other responsibilities like work, family and a social life. On the other hand, compassion fatigue is caused by feeling your loved one’s pain, suffering or distress.

How Will I Know If I Am Experiencing Compassion Fatigue?

Despite burnout and compassion fatigue being different, some of the signs and symptoms can be quite similar, which could explain why they’re often confused for one another. For example, compassion fatigue and burnout may cause:

  • Physical complaints like headaches and trouble sleeping
  • Feeling drained or exhausted
  • Feeling isolated or detached
  • Reduced feelings of empathy
  • Having difficulties with decision making

While it can be difficult to decipher whether you are experiencing compassion fatigue or burnout, the good news is that the symptom similarity means many well-known strategies for reducing burnout may also be helpful if you have compassion fatigue.

3 Helpful Ways to Deal with Compassion Fatigue

1. Consider how to improve your physical health.

Physical and mental health come hand in hand, and maintaining your physical wellbeing may help alleviate the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Take steps to eat healthily, striving for a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, protein, healthy fats, and whole grains, while considering any individual dietary requirements.

Exercise daily, even if it’s just a quick walk around the block or local park and aim for eight hours sleep each night. Of course, the demands of caregiving can make these things difficult, and simply doing your best with the time you have is an achievement – even the smallest changes make a difference.

2. Rediscover hobbies and your social life.

For many family caregivers, caregiving becomes their whole life. Before you’ve even had time to notice, beloved hobbies and social events that you once cherished can become a distant memory. If you can, take some time away from caregiving to rekindle a relationship with activities separate from your caregiving role.

Do you have a friend or family member who would be willing to help out with your loved one’s care for a few hours each week? Making time for hobbies and socializing can be an effective way to reduce compassion fatigue, allowing you to disconnect from the emotional strain of caregiving for a short while.

3. Keep tabs on how you feel.

While using self-care strategies like the ones above, keep a record of how you feel to gauge how well they are working and what is most effective for you. Every family caregiver is different, providing care in a situation that is completely unique.

Therefore, what is lifesaving for one family caregiver, might not work so well for another. The use of techniques like journaling, or simply rating your mood each day can help you gain a deeper insight into what self-care looks like for you.

Why Should You Prioritize Self-Care?

As a family caregiver, it can be hard to prioritize yourself, and many caregivers feel selfish or guilty for doing so. However, looking after yourself is only going to strengthen the care you are able to provide for your loved one. In short, self-care is an essential, not a luxury.

The Next Step: Residential Assisted Living

Even with all the self-care techniques in the world, there sometimes comes a point when you are no longer able to offer your loved one the round the clock care they need. If their needs have become more complex and demanding, or if you are experiencing unmanageable burnout or compassion fatigue, exploring the possibility of residential assisted living in Hendersonville could be a positive step forward for both you and your aging loved one.

If you would like more information about New Hope Senior Living, a residential assisted living home, get in touch today to arrange a personalized tour.

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