It comes on suddenly: a burst of irritability and depression. You lose your sense of humor and ability to concentrate. You feel emotionally empty–like you’ve hit a brick wall. And sometimes, you’re angry and frustrated by all the things and people in your life, including the loved ones who need you most.
Know that you’re not alone. There are 65 million Americans who take on the role of caregiving. They spend about 20 hours each week tending to the needs of another in addition to balancing their everyday lives. After months—or even years—of absorbing a loved one’s pain, the added stress of the holidays can cause the sudden onset of a little-known condition called Compassion Fatigue.
This is normal and there are things a caregiver can do to recover:
1. Find balance between caregiving, time for yourself. Take a few minutes each day for enjoyable outlets like writing in a journal, meditation or taking a nap.
2. Define your limits and ask for help. No one can do it all. Take advantage of services like hospice and adult daycare centers. Reach out for advice and support online at sites likewww.caregiving.com.
3. Spend time with family and friends. You need to take breaks. Do something you really enjoy with the people you love.
4. Enjoy the holidays. Keep your celebrations simple. Rest, indulge in your favorite things, and create memories with loved ones. Most of all, keep a sense of humor even if nothing goes according to plan.
If symptoms persist, contact your personal physician. There are many medications on the market that can minimize the symptoms of Compassion Fatigue.
Crossroads Bereavement Coordinator Jeanne Morrison, LSW, encourages those experiencing compassion to take a break: “Rely on things that give you comfort. Meditate. Get a massage. Go for a walk. You should consider those things as important and necessary as you would prescribed medication from a doctor.”
She encourages professional caregivers to rely on co-workers for support. “If you are working through a particularly hard situation, other people on your team may be in the same boat, so reach out to colleagues on other teams,” she advises. “Family caregivers should be in touch with caregiver group support,” she says. “That common bond is invaluable. Respite is ideal even just for a day or two.”
The holiday season can be stressful and caring for a chronically or terminally ill individual compounds this stress. Identifying Compassion Fatigue symptoms, risk factors and ways to minimize this syndrome can help you enjoy the holidays without feeling overwhelmed.
“When you become aware that you are experiencing Compassion Fatigue, it’s a good opportunity to regroup,” Morrison adds. “When you take a break, it gives you the chance to understand your limits, but it is also a chance to recognize how strong you really are.”
If you have questions regarding Compassion Fatigue or have questions about a terminally ill patient, contact Crossroads Hospice (1-888-603-MORE). A team of highly qualified, incredibly compassionate individuals are only a phone call away.