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Caring for the elderly can be an intense and rewarding experience, but it can also be stressful. Compassion fatigue is the emotional, physical, and spiritual apathy that results from the constant demands of caring for others.
Compassion fatigue has been described as ‘running on empty’, it happens when you focus on meeting the physical and emotional needs of your clients at the expense of your own.
Compassion fatigue is also known as burnout. Both conditions are common in assisted care, although it is believed that compassion fatigue is more pervasive. While compassion fatigue is easily treatable, burnout is more complicated; sometimes a change of environment is necessary (resigning or changing profession) to abate the symptoms.
Understanding Compassion Fatigue
Activity staff are in the business of consoling, encouraging, moderating, reconciling, reassuring, and advocating for and on behalf of clients. That requires a lot of empathy and compassion on a daily basis. Caring for clients who are under significant emotional distress day in and day out can make staff vulnerable to compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is characterized by a profound emotional and physical exhaustion that can diminish your ability to feel empathy and compassion for your clients, thus defeating the purpose of your profession.
It is important to recognize ‘when it all becomes too much’. Tolerating it or bottling up your feelings can have dire consequences on your health and wellbeing and that of your clients.
Who is at Risk?
Compassion Fatigue may affect anybody working in the caring profession. At risk are activity staff, nurses, home caregivers, therapists, paramedics, doctors, wardens, and more.
Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue
The signs of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout are the same:
- Exhaustion – mental and physical
- Irritability, anger, guilt
- Dread of working with certain clients
- Gloomy and withdrawn
- Disillusioned with career, loss of purpose
- Insensitivity – lack of concern for the feelings of others
Within any nursing home you may notice that the majority of staff are happy and seemingly fulfilled in their work, while others that are somber, ill-tempered, and indifferent. The latter may be affected by compassion fatigue.
There are many contributing factors:
- Dwindling resources
- Criticism from co-workers
- Long shifts and heavy workload
- Clients going through a difficult phase
- Lack of support from management
- Personal circumstances
How to Manage Compassion Fatigue
At the heart of compassion fatigue is self-care. Placing your needs last can cause an imbalance between activities that nourish you and those that deplete your strength. Combine that with personal problems and the vulnerability compounds. Being aware, recognizing the signs early, and openly discussing your needs with co-workers and management may prevent the condition going further.
- Acceptance – compassion fatigue can happen to anyone
- Sort out personal problems
- Assess and improve workload
- Take regular breaks on long shifts
- Ask others in your workplace for support. Peer support and proper debriefings are essential.
It is possible to deliver optimum care without compromising your well-being. If you are feeling ‘on edge’ ask yourself: On a scale of 1 to 10, how serious is this? If it is 8 or 9 over a period of days or weeks, talk to someone, share your feelings. Life-balance builds resilience, so reach out for help.
Also, address your personal issues. Going to work stressed is no way to start a day’s work. Remember that self-care habits include good nutrition, sleep, daily practice of relaxation (mindfulness or yoga), and nurturing activities.
Look After Yourself
Making your own health and well-being a priority enables you to continue your work with compassion and empathy.
This article was originally published on www.goldencarers.com.
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