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Compassion fatigue is a natural consequence of providing care for a family member, friend or of being a professional caregiver. There are several phases of caregiving that will help you define your job as caregiver.

In the beginning there is an enthusiasm for the mission you’re undertaking. You are willing to go the extra mile, often doing more than what is expected. There is a natural expectation that your efforts will be rewarded and appreciated. When this expectation is unfulfilled, you have the first seeds for compassion fatigue.

The next phase is one of minor discontent. You may find yourself starting to shut down the lines of communication, find yourself making excuses and, lastly, starting to take shortcuts. This phase adds to the stress and starts the feelings of inadequacy. Burnout occurs when you feel completely shut down and cannot find a way to resolve your feelings of discontent.

Issues you may face as a care provider

  • Balancing work, family and caregiving. It is often thought that your family and friends will understand and support your caregiving mission. After family events and plans with friends are canceled because of caregiving responsibilities, you will find support becomes frustration and withdrawal on their part. It is important for you to ensure that you communicate your responsibilities to those who care about you and work together to find ways to not let personal relationships become a casualty of your job. This may change the nature of your participation and the challenge is to find ways that are mutually enjoyable.
  • Financial challenges/Money concerns. When a person chooses to care for a family member, it is sometimes at the expense of a career. This may affect your family income, retirement and ability to participate in community activities. It is important to face these challenges head-on and not let financial concerns be hidden or hope that they will disappear. There are programs that allow family or friends to be paid care providers, which may be one avenue to explore for income. Communication is essential with your current employer. Some may have work from home/telecommuting options or flexible work hours that will allow you to continue to be employed while providing needed care. Part-time options may also be available. If none of those options is available, look for community resources to assist with utilities, food and other needs.
  • Grief and loss/Emotional stress. While care providing be prepared for feelings of loss and grief. This can manifest itself in several ways. If you’re providing care for a family member, you may grieve what was or what might have been. With the changes that occur with providing care, you may experience a loss of friendships and the ability to plan or schedule pleasurable distractions. This causes a feeling of loss and sometimes guilt. It is important at this juncture to remember that the most important component of caregiving is taking care of yourself. Many organizations, including Paraquad, have caregiver support groups, and knowing you aren’t alone in your feelings can be healing. Identify what you can and cannot control. Sometimes a small change can make a big difference.

Tips for coping with compassion fatigue

  • Set boundaries. Learn how and when to say, “No.” Many times we are uncomfortable saying that two-letter word. Practice every time you see yourself in a mirror until you feel comfortable telling someone, “No.”
  • Find something that is just for you. It may be keeping a journal, meditating, taking a break to read or gardening (container gardening, straw bale gardening and bag gardening are great for getting your hands in the dirt but don’t take up space and a lot of time).
  • Eat right, hydrate, exercise and get proper rest.
  • Take care of your physical health. See your doctor on a regular basis. Don’t ignore symptoms.
  • Engage your friends by scheduling themed potlucks. Everyone shares in the work load and it keeps important lines of communication open.

Nancy McGuire is a Consumer Directed Services (CDS) Supervisor at Paraquad. She can be reached at nmcguire@paraquad.org.

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