Who knew? I surely didn’t. I didn’t realize that the cracks in my back teeth, the soreness in my jaws, the knots in my shoulders, weight gain, sickness, sleeplessness, inability to concentrate, irritability, and a whole host of other symptoms were in reality due to stress from caring for others. Depending on the author, this stress has been labeled compassion fatigue, caregiver stress, burnout and secondary traumatic stress disorder, but regardless of the title, the effects are the same.
But I love serving others! Sure I do, and other stressed-out caregivers do as well, but there are signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue of which we must be aware in order to stay healthy and to be in a better position to serve our clients and loved ones.
How do you combat compassion fatigue? First, you need to be kind to yourself, and that includes kindness in body, mind and spirit. Indulging in a massage, acupuncture, or other holistic therapy is a good start. Regardless of your crazy schedule, take 5-15 minutes every day to quiet your mind and focus on your inward peace; you may want to try deep breathing exercises or meditation. And speaking of exercise, just 15-30 minutes on a treadmill or exercise bike can work wonders for your peace of mind and weight control. Joining a support group can also be quite beneficial, but if group talk isn’t your cup of tea, a life coach or therapist can help you work through your challenges on a more personal basis.
Being aware of compassion fatigue is the first step in combating its unhealthy effects. As caregivers we need to take care of ourselves first so we can better take care of those we love.
For more in-depth discussion on the signs, symptoms and treatment of compassion fatigue, please check out these online resources:
Amazon.com also has a number of excellent titles on the subject including:
Help for the Helper: The Psychophysiology of Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma by Babette Rothschild and Marjorie Rand (Hardcover - Mar 1, 2006)
To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving by Patricia Smith (Kindle Edition - Jul 25, 2009) - Kindle eBook
Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk (Paperback - May 1, 2009)