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How to Manage Compassion Fatigue

Caring for someone else is challenging

“It is not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.” ~ Mandy Hale

Andy met Sue and fell in love with her immediately. She told him she lived with a severe mental health challenge and that she was in treatment to heal. Andy didn’t care because he loved her so much. Now, after five years of marriage and aiding Sue to heal, Andy feels burned out and fatigued. After seeking help for himself, his therapist quickly diagnosed Andy with compassion fatigue.

The subject for this article, as you have surmised, is compassion fatigue. We shall examine how it affects the people who love those living with severe mental and physical health conditions. There are some signs that one may be feeling this type of emotional turmoil, and in this piece, we will discuss them.

Identifying Compassion Fatigue

The first step in defeating a problem is recognizing it is there. That statement is true of compassion fatigue. Loving someone who has a severe health problem of any type is trying. One loves their partner or friend and cares very much about what happens to them, seeking to aid them in their healing.

However, there comes the point in any such relationship where the person doing the caring feels burned out because of all the emotional energy they are expending. When this happens, the husband, wife, friend, etcetera may experience any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Isolation
  • Loss of morale
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Emotional intensity increases
  • Cognitive ability decreases
  • Behavior and judgment impairment
  • Low energy
  • Negative mood
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Emotional modulation
  • Impacted identity, worldview, and spirituality
  • Loss of hope
  • Loss of meaning

All the above symptoms can lead to those who love and care for someone with a severe illness, forming depression and anxiety disorders.

The Stages of Burnout

Compassion fatigue doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it takes time and passes through four stages.

  • Enthusiasm
  • Stagnation
  • Frustration
  • Apathy

Enthusiasm. At first, those who love someone with a severe health condition are all in and enthusiastically help the person with whom they have become enamored. They fuss over their loved one and read all they can about their condition and support them in every way possible.

Stagnation. After a while, loved ones of a person with a health condition begin to feel the emotional drain, especially when their loved one doesn’t make rapid progress.

Frustration. The routine battles a loved one of the people healing from a severe health condition wears them down. They begin to think they are causing the problem or that their loved one will never heal.

Apathy. Finally, the loved one begins to lose interest in the person they have been aiding and loses concern over their well-being. This person has reached the burn out stage where they no longer wish to be in the relationship but may feel guilty leaving.

According to The American Institute of Stress, Dr. F. Oshberg, M.D. is quoting as saying:

“First, you should understand that it’s a process. It’s not a matter of one day, you’re living your life with a great deal of energy and enjoyment, and the next, you wake up exhausted and devoid of any energy — both physical and emotional. Compassion fatigue develops over time — taking weeks, sometimes years to surface. Basically, it’s a low level, chronic clouding of caring and concern for others in your life — whether you work in or outside the home. Over time, your ability to feel and care for others becomes eroded through the overuse of your skills of compassion. You also might experience an emotional blunting — whereby you react to situations differently than one would normally expect.”

Methods to Manage Compassion Fatigue

There are some things one can do to help themselves if you are experiencing compassion fatigue.

Find someone to talk to. It doesn’t have to be a mental health professional, but finding an adult to share your feelings and emotions will help.

Understand your pain is normal. No one can live under the pressure of loving someone with a severe illness without feeling pain. It is painful to watch someone you love suffers, and it is painful for you to suffer too. You are not a bad person because you admit you hurt.

Take good care of yourself. This self-care includes eating well and exercising. It also includes practicing good sleep hygiene. One cannot handle the stress of caring for someone with a severe illness if you are hungry, sluggish, and not sleeping well.

Take a day off for yourself. Even if your loved one is in constant need of care, do not forget to take time for yourself. Find or hire someone to remain with your loved one and spend some time away relaxing. Even one day away from the harsh realities of your loved one’s illness is refreshing and will help prevent compassion fatigue.

Develop some interests outside of the relationship. This is good advice for any relationship regardless of the presence of illness. Find a hobby or join a club where you can spend time with others or time alone.

Take a personal inventory of what matters to you. Take time to sit quietly and contemplate what it is you feel matters to you most. Do you feel you are in love with your partner? Do you want a different job? Do you feel confident that you can carry on the way you have recently while taking care of your loved one? These and many more are vital questions to ask yourself so you can identify personal goals and meet your needs.

It is Okay to Leave

Try to remember that you are not a horrible person for needing to contemplate all the things in the above list. You are only human. You stay in the relationship with your partner because you love them, and that is to be commended.

Life isn’t easy or fair for any of us, and you are no exception. However, should you decide you need to leave, that DOES NOT make you a failed or bad person. Everyone has their limits.

If you find you feel the need to leave, attempt self-care first before making the final plunge. Then, if you have tried all else and you still feel the urge to leave, go. It is vital to care for yourself and not an evil deed.

“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” ~ Katie Reed

In Closing

Staying with someone who is experiencing a mental or physical health problem isn’t easy. You do so because you love them deeply, or you would not stay. Being aware of the signs, symptoms, and possible solutions to compassion fatigue can help you avoid the feeling of entrapment.

If you do become fatigued, take time for yourself and concentrate on your own health. It will not help you, your loved one, or your relationship if you experience burnout.

However, if you find you cannot take care of yourself and your loved one, it may be time to take a vacation to contemplate your next steps. Should you decide to leave the relationship, do so knowing you did all you could.

“Remember, take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.” ~ Author unknown

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