Managing Compassion Fatigue: Tips for Caregivers

Caring for loved ones can lead to compassion fatigue. In this blog post, we want to help you find a balance between your well-being and your care tasks.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is a state of exhaustion (physical, emotional, and mental) caused by the stress of caring for others, particularly those suffering or traumatised. It is a common experience among caregivers, such as nurses, social workers, and family members, who provide care for individuals with chronic illnesses, disabilities, or other challenging conditions.

We see it a lot in the primary carers of our seniors when we first meet them. That’s why we offer Home Care and Live-in Care services to help you reduce those stress points.

Compassion fatigue can be incredibly complicated to recognise and manifest in many forms. It can also be challenging to talk about because sometimes, asking for help feels like failure. If you find yourself in this position, please stop punishing yourself. You have a lot on your plate, and everyone has their limits. In fact, 1 in 5 adults care for others (State of Caring Report, November 2022, Carers UK), and 62% of those surveyed said they needed health and well-being support.

It is time to seek support and return to enjoying precious time with your loved one.

What are the signs of compassion fatigue?

As we said, exhaustion can be tricky to spot, but some common traits exist. We usually hear people talking about compassion fatigue signs in phases:

  1. The stage of caring – In this stage, you feel an increased need to help others and tend to neglect your own needs. Often, when helping parents, this can be associated with feelings of guilt, tradition and the need to nurture. While your emotions rage, you usually don’t notice coping mechanisms, causing you to form bad habits, like unhealthy diets or skipping meals.
  2. The stage of stagnation – In this stage, you may feel that your efforts are not making any difference, and you are frustrated and disillusioned. You may also feel grief at this point; seeing Mum and Dad becoming less agile and more dependent can be traumatic.
  3. The frustration stage – In this stage, you may feel anxious, angry, resentful, and overwhelmed. You may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, and fatigue.
  4. The stage of apathy – In this stage, you may feel emotionally numb and detached from your work, family, friends and the people you are trying to help.
lady alone and staring out of a window

But what if you can’t pin your feelings and compassion fatigue symptoms into a ‘phase’? Here are some common signs of compassion fatigue that you should look out for:

  • Feeling emotionally exhausted or overly emotional
  • Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, muscle aches or stomachaches
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Having trouble sleeping, yet constantly tired
  • Feeling irritable or angry
  • Suffering mood swings
  • Becoming forgetful or less productive
  • Becoming overly pessimistic or cynical
  • Struggling to make crucial decisions
  • Catching colds or suffering flu more regularly
  • Feeling detached or numb
  • Feeling isolated
  • Feeling overly anxious or depressed
  • Experiencing addiction

Regardless of your symptoms, it is crucial that you talk to your GP and explain what’s going on. While there could be a clinical reason for what’s manifesting, you could be suffering from compassion fatigue, which is known as “the cost of caring”.

Remember, it is natural to experience compassion fatigue as a caregiver

Witnessing the pain and suffering of those you care for can drain your emotional well-being and lead to feelings of exhaustion, detachment, and burnout.

You can also feel a massive sense of guilt, loss and ineptitude because you think you should be able to cope or handle anything. Which isn’t true. Everyone needs help.

Recognising these feelings and taking steps to address them before you hit crisis point is essential to preventing compassion fatigue from becoming overwhelming.

Take time to monitor your well-being. Where could you use some help, and what does that help look like?

lady looking stressed

13 Home Instead tips for dealing with compassion fatigue

Try implementing as many compassion resilience tips as possible to help you balance caring with your well-being.

Tip 1: Find time for self-care

Sleep well, eat healthily, stay hydrated, relax and exercise regularly. While all that feels impossible, stealing moments here and there to focus on your needs gives you more energy to care for others.

Tip 2: Set reasonable boundaries

Learn to say “no” when necessary and prioritise your own needs. That could be made more accessible through Home Care, where a care professional could take care of weekly shopping with Mum while you take a break.

Tip 3: Practice mindfulness

Try activities like meditation or yoga to help you stay present in the moment and reduce stress. There are plenty of breathing and stretching exercises that you can do in 5 minutes, which will help you feel more centred and present, meaning more energy for everyone around you.

Tip 4: Take breaks

It’s essential to step away from work or caregiving responsibilities when needed. Even short breaks throughout the day can help you recharge and prevent burnout.

Tip 5: Ask for support

Talk to a friend, family member, or your GP about what you’re experiencing. A support system can help you feel less isolated and overwhelmed. Your supporters can also help you do things. A partner could take over the weekly shop while you tend to Mum, or the kids could mind your dog while you take Dad to the doctor. A care professional can help monitor medication or do household chores, freeing you to focus on something else.

Tip 6: Look for local caregivers’ groups or national associations

Local and national groups (including those related to illness or disability) can be incredibly supportive and a source of helpful information for your journey.

Tip 7: Find some fun time with the person you care for

It’s easy to forget that when caring for people, we can sometimes lose the bond we originally had together. Find fun activities or moments where you can work on that again. A few moments together can bring a sense of calm, serenity and love.

Tip 8: Take respite

At Home Instead, we offer respite services, which give you valuable time away to recharge your batteries. We can provide short and long-term respite, helping you feel refreshed and ready to be you again.

Tip 9: Start journal writing

The act of writing can be therapeutic. It can help you process thoughts, feelings, and emotions that you are conscious of and unconscious of. It can also help you plan, which keeps you feeling productive, helpful and in control.

Tip 10: Enjoy a hobby

Whilst it might sound crazy, spending time on a new hobby instead of more care work can be transformative. Sharing your hobby with the person you are caring for can also revitalise your bond.

Tip 11: Speak with a therapist

Caring for someone can be mentally challenging. Therapy offers a helpful way to talk through thoughts and feelings, helping you to regroup and regain control over the emotional and mental aspects of being a carer.

Tip 12: Speak to your manager at work

If you struggle to balance work and home life, speak to your boss. They can help you rebalance your workload to make your working life more manageable. Feeling less anxious at work means you are more positive at home.

Tip 13: Embrace their independence

Everyone wants to be independent, but as we become fragile with age, that decreases. As carers, we naturally want to care, and sometimes that manifests in stifling independence – whether trying to do the little things so that Mum doesn’t have to or tackling big decisions on Dad’s behalf. Being aware of what our loved ones can still do for themselves safely and allowing them to do that takes a little pressure off, not just in tasks but also emotions.

Where can I get caregiver support in Ascot, Camberley and Wokingham?

General advice and emotional support for carers in Ascot, Camberley and Wokingham can be found in the following places:

  • Carer’s Evening Get-together hosted by Bracknell Forest Dementia Advisory Service and Bracknell Memory Clinic is the last Monday of each month (excluding bank holidays and Christmas). Email: [email protected]
  • Carer’s Support Drop-in is run by Signal4Carers with support from the Dementia Advisory Service on the first Tuesday of the month in Bracknell. email: [email protected]
  • Crafts for Carers is a weekly free craft session run by Forget-me-Knot in Bracknell. Phone 01344 266088
  • Walking for Mental Well-being is run weekly by local health charity Sport In Mind representatives. Look for your local contact on the website.
  • Signal4Carers supports local caregivers with free advice.
  • Action for Carers Camberley hosts weekly drop-ins for advice.
  • Age UK Berkshire provides free support and advice. 
  • Promise Inclusion runs a monthly coffee morning for carers in Wokingham to meet, socialise and discuss care topics. Email [email protected]
  • Wokingham Young Carers runs a network of support events and respite for young carers between the ages of 8 and 19.
two ladies hugging at a support group meeting

Remember, if you need dedicated care assistance, contact us, and we can talk you through your home care and live-in care options. Tel: 01276 903106