Caregiving Blog: Caregiver Burnout Plus Compassion Fatigue

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Caregiving burnout is experienced by caregivers who become physically exhausted by the tasks, role, and responsibilities of being a caregiver. Behaviors and patterns of loved ones trigger negative reactions by the caregiver that result in emotional exhaustion that I call burnout plus. Burnout plus advances to compassion fatigue when the caregiver mentally loses the desire and ability to be nurturing.

Losing That Loving Feeling

Being a caregiver for an extended period, having little or no help, and caring for a high need loved one easily results in losing that loving feeling. There is only so much that one person can manage for so long. Caregiving for aging parents can feel overwhelming.

Caregivers experience struggle and burnout when care needs cross the line of feeling like too much for one person to handle. Feeling overworked and underappreciated are universal caregiver feelings.

Caregiving burnout plus compassion fatigue touches family and professional caregivers. Physicians, nurses, certified nursing assistants, therapists, and others fall into similar patterns. Family members, clients, and patients can be demanding.

Daily exposure to persons with mood disorders, those who are emotionally and personally highly demanding, and who require significant hands-on care wears down even the most composed caregiver down.  Being a caregiver in this situation feels like being exposed to unpleasant and traumatic situations every day.

When compassion fatigue strikes, feelings of being angry, annoyed, impatient, intolerant, and wanting to run away from caregiving happens. Compassion fatigue affects our relationships with others because it seems like we don’t care and that we’ve lost that loving feeling.

Caregiving Roles and Responsibilities Become Too Much

Caregiving roles and responsibilities stack up as caregiving needs progress. What began as a situation where the caregiver didn’t see him or herself as a caregiver now involves evenings and weekends.

Grocery shopping and errands may have turned into hands-on care like bathing, setting up medications, transportation to medical appointments. Personal care may become more time-consuming.

Helping a loved one with a bath or shower can take an hour or more depending on the physical ability of the aging parent or spouse. Managing incontinence and washing linens every day can feel all-consuming.

Medical tasks may become a regular part of caregiving. Tasks like taking blood pressure, monitoring blood sugar, changing catheter bags, and other types of more complicated care needs can grow over time.

Performing these types of activities become worrisome for caregivers who receive little training. Most caregivers learn by trial and error. Fear exists about making mistakes that can harm loved ones.

An adult child may be living with a needy parent. In marital situations, there are few opportunities to get away. These all-encompassing and inclusive situations result in burnout plus compassion fatigue.

I’m So Tired of Being A Caregiver

Feelings of “I’m so tired of being a caregiver” are feelings of caregiver burnout. When caregivers feel emotionally exhausted, the dread of getting of out bed in the morning to do it all over again can feel unbearable.

Thoughts of “I don’t care,” begin creeping into the mind and become a repetitive thought. This level of negativity multiplies and turning into compassion fatigue.

Burnout Plus: Caregiving Mistakes

Caregivers, family, and professional who experience compassion fatigue are more likely to make mistakes. In the professional world, compassion fatigue impacts the care of clients and patients. This feeling may be witnessed by working with a snappy or impatient person. Responding in a detached or unemotional manner is witnessed by family caregivers and persons needing care on the other end of the caregiving spectrum.  This burnout plus may be witnessed as the professional caregiver having “poor bedside manner.”

Poor behavior may be so extreme that family members wonder whether the caregiving professional should choose a different profession.  There have been times when I was on the receiving end of this type of behavior and thought, “if you hate your job so much go and find something else to do.”

Compassion Fatigue

When family caregivers feel less able to cope with the stresses related to caregiving, they shut down mentally and emotionally. This shutting down is similar to the idea of becoming detached. The caregiver wants to make it through the day without any major difficulties or disruptions.

What the caregiver does not realize when experiencing burnout plus that results in compassion fatigue is that the ability to care for a loved one is clouded by poor judgment and decision-making. Feelings of throwing in the towel are not good for the caregiver or the aging parent or spouse receiving care.

Family caregivers, after the fact, admit to experiencing burnout plus and compassion fatigue. When looking back the realization of “I could have done things differently,” is easy to see. This view is non-existent when one undergoes the effects of compassion fatigue.

It’s Time to Get Help

Log before family and professional caregivers experience burnout plus that results in compassion fatigue; it’s time to get help. Caregivers and those who see themselves not as caregivers, but as helping out pre-caregiving are unaware that support groups and courses exist.

Spouses who caregive 24/7 and have little time away from caregiving also do not realize that there are millions of others like them in similar situations. Joining with other caregivers in groups and classes offers the realization that one is not alone on the caregiving path.

Many caregivers view searching for or investigating help as something that takes extra time. Because caregiving support is not well-known or publicized, few know where to search and find the right program.

Look for Frustrating Patterns

Long before caregiving spirals out of control, small events begin happening that set us off. By paying attention to and identifying these “emotional triggers,” the emotional roller coaster becomes easier to manage.

For example, an aging parent or a spouse may comment. That particular comment surges up feelings of anger, guilt, and helplessness in you. Instead of allowing this to happen, stop, think, and respond.

It’s okay to say, “that comment makes me feel bad.” The next step would be to identify if you have control over the aspect of the situation or if your loved one is venting and blaming.

Venting and blaming only go so far. There is a point when the complaining has to stop and be replaced by action. Action can change the negative patterns that set off emotions.

Another response might be, “I hear you say that often. What do you plan to do about it?” Asking this question removes potential blame and places the responsibility back on the other person to develop a solution.

While caregivers may know that a situation would benefit from a change, many don’t know how to bridge the gap from A to Z. Closing a caregiving gap and finding personal support is where having a mentor and accessing formal caregiving support can make all the difference.

Where Caregivers Find Support

Options for caregiving support on my website are ever-growing. The Caring Generation® library exists for family and professional caregivers. Thirty categories of information on a wide variety of topics are available. 

Website pages featuring videos and Pamela’s weekly caregiving radio program, The Caring Generation® are on the site. For those who enjoy watching caregiver videos, check out Caregiving TV on Pamela’s YouTube Channel. Pamela’s caregiving blog is updated weekly with articles and information related to radio program topics and special guests.

The “how I help” section features Pamela’s two courses, Stay at Home and How to Get Guardianship of a Parent. Also featured are the benefits of caregiving support. For those who might be hesitant to join a caregiving webinar, the “what is a caregiving webinar” page shows how easy it is to join Pamela in an online course or a webinar.

The options for support are endless and easy to access because all of Pamela’s support is Internet-based. Caregivers don’t have to leave home to find hope, help, and caregiver support and resources.

Caregiving Is Isolating

Caregivers, family, and professional, become more resilient by taking action. Inaction, being stuck in a rut, experiencing burnout plus compassion fatigue can feel hopeless. Because caregiving can be isolating many caregivers also experience depression and loneliness.

The role of caregiving can be isolating when family caregivers spend hours, days, weeks, and months in the family home caregiving. It’s as if the outside world has frozen.

There are no more outings with friends, few invitations to activities or to socialize. Time outside the home consists of running errands, grocery shopping, taking loved ones to medical appointments, and phone calls to coordinate care.

When the total focus in life is caregiving, other aspects of life suffer. The family and home life of the caregiver suffer. Relationships with family members and friends may be put on the back burner.

The heavy requirements of caregiving destroy families, marriages, and the health and well-being of the caregiver. Caregiver burnout plus compassion fatigue must be taken seriously to avoid harm to the caregiver and the care receivers.

How to Become More Resilient

Becoming more resilient involves taking action. Instead of coping with getting through the day and becoming detached. For caregiving to improve, caregivers must be pro-active instead of reactive.

By making up the mind to take control of caregiving—rather than to allow caregiving to be in control—caregivers will feel a sense of relief. Many times when we are in situations that feel beyond our control, it is difficult to see a path forward.

Joining with colleagues if one is a professional caregiver is beneficial. Family caregivers benefit from joining with other family caregivers.

Both family and professional caregivers benefit from attending support groups and courses. This type of support builds confidence, increases self-esteem, increases awareness of new caregiving skills, improves the level of care for loved ones, and reduces caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue.

Becoming more resilient also involves taking better care of ourselves. These actions include eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep at night, daily exercise, mindful activities like meditation, and what I call “sprucing up.”

Our outer appearance affects the way that we feel. By taking daily showers and baths, brushing teeth and hair, shaving for men, and dressing nicely, we feel better about ourselves. The same is true for aging parents and spouses who receive care. Regardless of being retired and staying home all day, it is still important to get up and get ready for the day.

Practice Positivity

Ridding ourselves of negative thoughts is mandatory in caregiving situations.  Concentrated daily action is a choice everyone can make.

Reading the Bible or a motivational book in the morning, even if only for five minutes can provide inspiration and positive thoughts for the day. A commitment to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts has long-lasting benefits.

Ridding the mind of negative thoughts reduces worry and anxiety about things we feel are out of control. The next step is that sending away negative thoughts takes an action plan to counteract worry and anxiety.

Talking to oneself each day and making “I will statements attached to a deadline,” supports moving forward to improve the caregiving situation. For example, by August 1st, I will walk six blocks daily and meditate each day for 20 minutes.

Being appreciative of small things like the sunrise, a good cup of coffee, and the car starting support positivity. Add to this time outdoors—even if just sitting on the porch for a few minutes—lifts the mind and spirit.

Daily exercised mentioned in the section about resilience is also a must. I know that this may be an unpopular topic for many if exercise has not been a regular part of your life.

Exercise is a mindset. Daily exercise represents the attitude that you will take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of others. The side benefits are relief from depression, negative thoughts, and feeling better.

Caregiving is Rewarding

By becoming more resilient and practicing positivity caregiving fees less like burnout and compassion fatigue and returns to being joyful. As caregivers, it is easy to ignore the good that we do. It is easy to ignore the positive effects that we have on family members, clients, and patients.

Reward yourself so that you can continue to find joy in caregiving.

©2019 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved


About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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