Caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue are examples of how these stresses can significantly impact those providing care. Although they’re similar, they’re also very different. Read on to learn about caregiver burnout vs compassion fatigue.
Caregivers provide critical services, not only for their care recipients but also for the overall healthcare system. Because of the challenges with this important role, more awareness is being raised about how to care for the caregivers themselves.
Caregiving is increasingly being viewed as a major public health issue, according to growing evidence of the mental and physical strains of the work.
Don’t Lose Sight of Your Own Wellbeing
If you’ve heard of these conditions at all, you may have thought they only affect professionals working day after day in intensive care units or emergency medicine.
However, these issues can affect anyone who cares for others who are in pain or suffering, according to Patricia Smith, founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project. This could be a loved one, friend or family member for whom you provide “intense, intimate, and emotional care.”
It’s increasingly common for the stress of caretaking to affect caregivers’ health. According to AARP, caregiver self-rated health has declined throughout the past five years. One in five caregivers consider their health to be fair or poor.
Caregivers report worse health regardless of their income, marital status, and whether they had a choice to provide care. Those who more often self-rate as being in fair or poor health include:
- Those who feel alone
- Caregivers who live with their care recipient
- Those in high-intensity caregiving situations
- Primary caregivers
Let’s explore the warning signs of burnout vs compassion fatigue to gain awareness of how to care for yourself.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Over time, a caregiver can become overwhelmed physically, emotionally, and mentally. They may feel exhausted from the stress of caring for another, leading to feeling a lack of support or appreciation for the work they’re doing.
Knowing the signs of caregiver burnout can help a caregiver recognize when they need to adjust how they care for themselves. Ignoring the warning signs can begin to harm the people they care for, as the caregiver may no longer be able to do their job well.
Warning signs of caregiver burnout include feelings of:
Behaviors may change causing a caregiver to:
- Withdraw from people
- Feel a loss of control over their life
- Lose interest in things they enjoy
- Neglect their own needs and health
How is Compassion Fatigue Different?
Compassion fatigue can come on suddenly, often when a caregiver feels overwhelmed by empathizing with the suffering and trauma of the person they care for. Beyond feeling overwhelmed by their work, compassion fatigue causes a secondary traumatic stress disorder.
In addition to other health issues, a caretaker may lose the ability to empathize and have compassion for others. This creates concern as it halts their ability to do their job well.
Knowing what signs to look for can help to alert a caregiver that they need to change how they care for themselves. Proactively working to improve self care and self compassion can help caregivers prevent long-lasting issues caused by compassion fatigue. If the signs go unnoticed, they can lead, not only to long-lasting mental health issues, but also to stress-related physical illness.
Warning signs of compassion fatigue include feelings of:
- Irrational fear
Behaviors may change causing a caregiver to:
- Isolate themselves
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Have insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Increasingly use drugs and alcohol
Caregivers should take notice of these warning signs and seek support and self care to avoid causing themselves physical or mental harm from the caretaking work that they do.
Your tolerance for various caregiving challenges may change depending on your circumstances. Remember that the early signs associated with burnout and fatigue are normal. However, it takes ongoing self care to recognize them and make adjustments to maintain your health and prevent more serious issues.
These tips from Teepa Snow, founder of Positive Approach to Care, can help you manage challenges from giving care to others, to taking care of yourself, especially when it comes to caring for those with dementia. At The Kensington Sierra Madre, our certified Positive Approach to Care trainer follows this methodology closely and helps others learn the techniques and this approach to memory care.
Listen to Your Body
Because emotional signals can be harder to define, take moments each day to listen to what your body is communicating through physical symptoms.
Are you frequently experiencing any of the following possible signs of stress disorders?:
- Body aches
- Frequent headaches
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive issues
- Trouble sleeping
- Sick often
To prevent these symptoms from causing more serious issues, see a doctor. Research what may be causing your issues and find ways to take more care in each area. Are your headaches caused by tension or dehydration? What interrupts your sleep patterns? How often have you been sick with a cold within the past few months? Noticing your behaviors and symptoms can point you to feeling better.
If you’re noticing emotional changes, seek mental health support, whether that be visiting a therapist, opening up to a friend, reading helpful resources, journaling, or doing hobbies you enjoy.
Kensington Konnect includes resources for caregivers and families with a curated collection of online classes, articles, how-to videos, books, and more.
Exploring what helps you release your feelings of anger or anxiety, for example, can help you address your personal struggles as a caregiver.
Take Care of Yourself First
You can’t care for others if you don’t take care of yourself. Now that you’re aware of the complications involved with caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue, make time to check on your own health.
Allowing yourself to seek support, take breaks, and make time for what you enjoy can help to make your work as a caregiver not only more sustainable, but also more fulfilling.
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