Caregivers suffer from two syndromes that indicate they need some personal attention. One is called “Compassion Fatigue” and the other “Caregiver Burnout.”
Running at Full Throttle
I like word pictures, so here’s one for you. Think of a boat. You have a caregiver running full throttle hitting waves head-on, staying the course for hours on end without taking time to protect his shoreline. In his mind, if his boat stops, the enemy will breach his coastline and enter his home; therefore, he cannot quit. He runs out of gas, but he must defend his coast! (caregiver fatigue)
Runs Out of Gas
Consequently, he picks up the oars and paddles harder and faster until more gas arrives. More gas comes, and he gets to rest, but only a short while, and it happens again. The need to defend his shoreline repeatedly happens over a series of months and years. (caregiver burnout)
The pattern of rest and pushing ahead creates more significant stress leading to Compassion Fatigue. The caregiver begins to be less tolerant of others, feels disconnected, becomes annoyed more easily, has increased low self-esteem, and has less compassion. Unless he takes a break and recognizes he is overwhelmed and needs to get away for a while, his emotional state will progress to Caregiver Burnout.
If he ignores the warning signs and keeps peddling or he drops his oars and loses them in the water, he then reaches the point of Caregiver Burnout, where he begins to attempt to protect his shoreline by peddling the water with his arms alone. He is so exhausted, he has little left to give, but he keeps giving anyway. Common signs of caregiver stress associated with compassion fatigue include:
- Anxiety, depression, irritability
- Feeling tired and run down.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Overreacting to a minor nuisance
- New or worsening health problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling increasingly resentful
- Drinking, smoking, or eating more
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Cutting back on leisure activities
Caregiver Burnout Occurs if Fatigue Is Not Addressed
Compassion Fatigue symptoms progress to the following if they are not addressed and corrected.
- Having much less energy than before
- Catch every virus that comes along
- Feeling exhausted even after sleeping all night or taking a break.
- Neglecting your own needs because you’re too busy or don’t care anymore
- Your life revolves entirely around the person needing care by you; however, you receive no satisfaction from providing the care.
- Have trouble relaxing even if help is available
- Become increasing impatient and irritable with the person for whom you’re caring
- Feel hopeless and helpless