Barbara Fradkin – FLORIDA TODAY
Q: I’m a caregiver for my Mom, but I just can’t keep doing it. What’s wrong with me?
A: There is nothing wrong with you. In fact, I hear this a lot when consulting with people. You have what some people call caregiver burn out, or “compassion fatigue.” The term describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others, often compounded by stress or trauma.
Warning signs of compassion fatigue include feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, reduced feelings of empathy and sensitivity, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by demands, feeling detached, numb and emotionally disconnected and a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
Recovery from compassion fatigue requires self-care. It can be difficult to put your own needs first when you are caring for a loved one. But what if something happened to you? Who would care for them? You may need to hire someone to come into the home for short periods of time, enough time for you to go out to lunch or dinner with a friend. Do something for YOU. When was the last time you had your hair or nails done? Enjoyed a round of golf? Strolled through a park? Simple things can help you recharge and give you the strength to continue the care-giving role.
Unaddressed, compassion fatigue can lead to anxiety, depression and other conditions. Adequate sleep and proper nutrition can absolutely help. Try keeping a journal for a while to keep track of your feelings and what triggers the most stress. Once identified, stressors are easier to work on. Establishing “boundaries” is also important. Loved ones can demand a good portion of your time! As long as you know your loved one is safe, strategize ways to carve out time for a nap, soak in a tub, or something else just for YOU.
You are normal. Your compassion fatigue may come with a heaping dose of guilt, or a sense that you have lost the ability to feel empathy. Don’t worry, compassion fatigue can be overcome with self-care and does not indicate you are a bad person. Guilt is an emotion, and it also has a lot of power. Guilt can help you acknowledge your feelings and fuel your motivation to improve your situation. And talking with someone can ease your mind and spirit. Perhaps you’ll consider a support group with others who share your journey. Whether you talk to a trained professional or a sympathetic friend — know it will be OK. For local resources, call 321-751-6771 in Viera and 407-949-6733 in Greater Orlando.
One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to askOSP@OneSeniorPlace.com, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.
Barbara Fradkin is a Social Worker and a Certified Care Manager for One Senior Place in Viera.