Compassion Fatigue: When Caring Takes its Toll

Empathy is a survival mechanism rooted in our biology. Feelings of empathy and compassion are driving forces for the greater good of society, but it is important to feel compassion for yourself as well as others. If you don’t take care of yourself it can lead to compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a condition family caregivers may experience when they neglect self-care. Constantly caring for a loved one while neglecting one’s own needs can be associated with decreased empathy and a sense of inadequacy. This feels like driving on an empty tank of gas.

Compassion fatigue is often confused with burnout. Burnout is usually the result of a cumulative effect and leads to longer recovery times. On the other hand, compassion fatigue has a rapid onset and often has a quicker recovery time. People suffering from this condition report the following:

  • Mental, emotional and physical exhaustion
    • Decreased feelings of empathy
    • Feelings of dread or guilt
    • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling disconnected
    • Anxiety, irritability, anger
    • Self-isolation

However, there is hope, and help is readily available! The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project states, “Our path to wellness begins with one small step. Awareness.” Once a carer has acknowledged their need for help there are many courses of action. Practicing self-care is the most effective way of combating and preventing this condition. For example: improving sleep habits, exercising regularly, and practicing self-awareness exercises like rating feelings on a number scale. Self-care is important and should not be treated as a luxury.

A sense of support and camaraderie is crucial for carers, and this is where we can help! AMI-Quebec offers several free online support groups for carers going through similar issues. You may also benefit from our workshops or SOS-Famille counselling.

– Julianna De Pascale

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