(Editor’s Note: Writer and blogger Isaac Peterson explores compassion fatigue and how it impacts caregivers. He also shares practical tips and strategies to manage compassion fatigue and self-care for caregivers. Thank you, Isaac, for the important information. KT).
Being a caregiver is important, but difficult work.
Caregivers are caring and compassionate people who put their lives on hold in order to be there and to be ready to handle anything that might come up with the one they are caring for.
The best ones take the care part of being a caregiver very seriously and view caregiving as more than just a job. At its best, being a caregiver can be very rewarding and fulfilling work. Ideally, caregivers love the person they’re caring for and love caring for them.
Caregivers don’t necessarily need to be trained or certified. Anyone—friends, family, anyone in a survivor’s life—can provide that survivor significant and loving care. What I’ve written focuses more on people who are career caregivers, but much of it can apply to anyone in a caregiver position.
So what happens when a labor of love becomes labor? Is it possible to care too much? Caregiving can become tense and stressful after a point where the constant need to be preoccupied with the needs and suffering of those they are helping can be overwhelming.
What is compassion fatigue and how can caregivers recognize when they have it? One definition I found online is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.
Some symptoms are headaches, digestive problems, feeling overwhelmed by the job and irritability. A major giveaway that a caregiver is experiencing compassion fatigue is feeling detached from the person they’re caring for, as well as others. Mental and emotional distress are other symptoms.
That, in a nutshell is compassion fatigue. There are a lot of moving parts to caregiving and compassion fatigue. This is just a brief overview.
I asked my friend Bob (not his real name) about compassion fatigue. Bob is a former caregiver who now supervises caregivers for an agency that trains and oversees caregivers. Most of what follows is me paraphrasing things Bob told me. Direct quotes are Bob’s own words.
Bob tells me good caregivers are the ones who are genuinely caring and compassionate people by nature, people who are altruistic, and are naturally concerned with the welfare of others.
But even some of the most caring and compassionate caregivers can feel burned out with their work.
“I think compassion fatigue comes from being overwhelmed, not just in the caregiver role but also in their personal lives–managing your life and then at the same time managing the life of someone else that is not able to function on their own,” says Bob.
What can caregivers do when they realize they are experiencing compassion fatigue?
Caregivers should definitely be absolutely clear on their motive for wanting to be a caregiver in the first place. Someone not willing to make the time or put in the effort and put their own interests aside for the time they are with their client and tend to their needs, or ones who go into it looking at it as just another job, should probably not be caregivers.
“One thing caregivers can do is create space between their personal and professional lives,” shares Bob. “Some people bring work home with them, and when you’re dealing with someone that is not able to do for themselves, you’re constantly thinking about what they need or what’s going to happen for them.”
Likewise, don’t bring your personal life with you to work–leave it at home. Learn to compartmentalize your work and personal life, to keep them separate and concentrate on what needs to be done for each area. Focus on what needs to be done right now in either area and don’t let one bleed over into the other.
That might be easier said than done, though.
Bob explained: “The idea of being able to go to work and stay in the right frame of mind about giving care and helping the person they’re with manage their own life is definitely something that pulls on their heart strings, pulls on their time and their emotions.”
Sometimes, for the good of everyone involved, the best thing a caregiver can do is take a step back, to take a break in order to stay fully engaged and committed.
In Bob’s view, it’s desirable for a caregiver to learn a kind of clinical detachment, the same kind doctors and nurses develop with patients. It isn’t about not caring or being indifferent to the client’s needs; they learn to be absolutely focused on the problem at hand, more than on the person. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about that person; it means while they are on the job they focus on what is necessary in the moment and nothing else, knowing that their best efforts will benefit their patient.
Frustration in a caregiver’s own life can carry over into their work. The one on the receiving end can pick up on that frustration, knowing the person responsible for their care may view them as an inconvenience or worse, leading to their own frustration—on top of any frustration they may feel for needing care to begin with. In some cases that frustration can manifest as resentment.
“If a person is really strong-willed and centered in themselves well enough they’ll know where to place the frustration. If you’re not centered or don’t know too much about yourself or don’t have a handle on things for yourself that makes it easier to become fatigued,” Bob told me.
Recognize when you’re in over your head—that the job may be more than you bargained for—and don’t be afraid to admit it. Denial doesn’t help either one of you.
Frustration can also come from unwanted or unnecessary intrusions from the family. It’s difficult to know how to handle it in a way that doesn’t make any anger or tension worse, but one way to avoid that happening is for each side to be clear on exactly what is expected from the other party right from the beginning.
If you can, put it in writing–what the family wants and expects you to do, how they want you to do it, when they want it done, and so on. You can submit for their approval your own care plan and how you will implement it. It’s easier to negotiate the terms of an agreement in advance. You may want to insist on spending some time with their loved one in before you commit to becoming their caregiver to get a feel for the person you will be taking care of. If necessary this agreement can be written out and signed by both parties in order to avoid tension and unpleasantness later.
Stick to your plan and revise it when it doesn’t appear to be working out.
“Plan it better and realize whoever you’re going to be caring for is going to need your full undivided attention during the time you’re with that person,” Bob added.
Some suggestions to help stave off compassion fatigue:
1. Love your work enough to step back and assess how fragmented you’ve become.
2. Love yourself enough to digress.
3. Love life enough to revise how you approach your work for your client and family and demonstrate your value to them.
4. Treat yourself to quiet time for self reflection.
5. Determine that you will return stronger and more resilient.
6. See a counselor if compassion fatigue becomes unmanageable.
7. Imagine someone struggling with the same difficulties you are experiencing. What would you advise that person? Don’t hesitate to take your own advice.
8. One of the most important things in caring for someone else, if not the most important thing, is to take care of yourself as well. “Self-care is very important. Make sure that when you’re accepting the responsibility of taking care of someone, it’s not putting you in a place where things change so severely that you can’t manage your own life,” says Bob.
Above all, to be a caring and compassionate caregiver, remember to have compassion for yourself.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These four words are something we all could use, especially right now.
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Social media means lots of things to lots of people.
Here’s a list of just some of the key elements of why people use social media:
- To keep in touch with family and friends.
- To connect with others.
- To have conversations.
- To find information and resources.
- To promote businesses, products and services (if applicable to them).
Needless to say, social media is important and is deeply ingrained in our community and cultural landscapes.
For those of us in the brain injury community, whether we’re survivors or caregivers, social media can serve an even more vital purpose. Not only can it serve us well in the six items noted above, it can be a terrific and helpful way to connect to other brain injury community members across the world. For some of us, social media offers hope, community, and even a lifeline.
So, social media is pretty perfect, yes?
Unfortunately, no. In fact, it’s far from it.
While social media can bring out the best in people, it can also bring out the worst.
Arguments. Ugly and/or uncomfortable posts and tweets. Negativity.
So, what does a social media user do to balance the good and the not-so-good things that come with social media use?
We’ve broken down some helpful tips and strategies to help you manage social media successfully, safely and positively. We have even provided personal tips from a social media expert at the end of this article.
Let’s get started.
Keep your social media safe with these important tips from experts:
- To keep your experience on social media positive, learn about your platform’s safety and privacy settings. That way you keep control of what you want people to see and who you interact with.
- Really think about what you are posting, how often you’ll post, what personal details you will share and what your online reputation is going to be. Online materials, tend to stay online. Additionally, and unfortunately, hackers and other cyber criminal activity is not going away. Create unique passwords, keep your software and apps up to date, and if a link looks or seems unusual, don’t click on it. Trust your instincts.
- If you are feeling harassed, note unusual activity on your social media account or anything else that you are seeing that makes you feel uncomfortable, visit your social media platform’s help section to learn how to block and report people and handle suspicious activity.
Keeping Social Media Positive
How do you keep social media a positive experience?
Here are some important things questions to ask yourself about your social media use:
- How do I want to see the online world? How do I want the online world to see me?
- How often do I want to participate in social media activities? How much time am I willing to spend on it?
- What are some of things are I am passionate about seeing and interacting with on social media? How does seeing and interacting with these things make me feel?
- What are some of the things I don’t want to see on social media? How do those things make me feel?
After you’ve thought through these questions, here are some tips to keep your social media use positive:
- Take a common sense approach to posts and steer clear of posting and/or sharing materials that may be disturbing, suggestive and offensive to others.
- Stay away from gossip.
- Post positive things that uplift yourself and others.
- Be honest, respectful and humble.
- If a family member or friend posted something that caused you concern, makes you uncomfortable, and or is offensive, let that person/people known. Often times, a private, honest and sincere message is the best way to share your thoughts and feelings.
The beauty of social media, and the most important thing that we can remember, is that we do really have control over what we see and who we interact with.
With that, use your social media tools to filter out the bad, and bring in the good. If there’s a person, group or page that bothers you, you can unfriend, unfollow and/or stop seeing their posts temporarily and/or permanently (depending on the platform). Please consult the help section of your social media platforms to learn more specifics.
Remember, you are in control and you know what’s best for you; don’t feel bad about taking these actions.
Once you’ve determined what isn’t working, add more of what is! This is one of the really fun parts of social media. Add the people, groups, things and organizations that really give you a positive spark.
You also have another great superpower on social media: encouraging others. Reinforce great posts and give others kindness, inspiration and hope with likes and positive comments. Model the kinds of posts you want to see, by creating great posts of your own.
If you are the recipient of a negative comment or find yourself in a tense exchange, here are some great tips to help defuse the situation.
- Explain the situation in different, more positive words. For example; “Thank you sharing for your concerns about this topic. I tend to feel passionate about this issue.”
- Remind the person about a positive interaction you had with them or a positive attribute they have (if you can, of course). “I know when we talked about this topic a few months ago, you really brought up some good and thoughtful debate points.”
- Give people a chance to make things right. Example: “I wonder if there’s another way to say that?”
- Take the personal part out of the topic, and focus on the process, problem, or situation.
- Politely end the conversation if it’s not getting anywhere. “I think it might be best to end this conversation at this time.”
Here are some final strategies to keep your social media experience a positive one.
- Take breaks. It’s okay to take breaks from social media from time to time.
- Limit your time on social media. Figure out how much time you are willing to spend daily, weekly, or monthly. Set a timer if you need to to meet your goals.
- Try other platforms. Example: do you like beautiful pictures and graphics? Consider Instagram or Pinterest. These platforms tend to be a little less conversational and more graphic-content driven.
Tips from a Social Media Expert
As the BEST nonprofit communications manager, a big part of my job is social media creation and moderation for the organization.
Let’s just say I see lots of social media posts on multiple social media platforms each day due to my duties, and of course, from my own personal social media.
The best part is that I get to see social media at its very best and brightest.
However, I do, more regularly than I’d like, get to see the worst it has to offer.
So, when it comes to my own personal social media, I’ve learned a lot professionally and personally over the years.
I post the things that I love only: beautiful photographs (especially nature), family memories, holiday and every day best wishes to others and things that BEST is doing in the community.
I have also decided some time ago what conversations and topics are best had privately in private message, voice to voice or in-person. These are the kinds of things I don’t engage in on social media and chose to engage in by the other ways I noted earlier.
When it comes to social media shares, I ask myself the following questions before I put something online in social media.
1. Do I have a clear goal with my post (like entertain, enlighten, educate or engage)?
2. Do these words honestly and accurately represent who I am as a person and can I stand behind them?
3. Are these words as such that they won’t cause hurt or damage to others?
4. Am I willing and able to accept feedback and conversation about these words from those I know and from those I don’t know, even if I don’t agree?
If the answer is no to any one of these questions, I invoke one or more of the four Rs:
I also use the four Rs when it comes to contemplating a response to someone via public social media, especially if the material is sensitive.
While perhaps this may seem overly cautious for some, and while not perfect, for the most part I’ve found this strategy successful and it gets my words out there in the best way possible.
I think it’s critically important to put our best and most earnest efforts into our online written words and social media shares, today and every day. It makes a difference in our personal and overall well-being and the well-being of others.
Words are tools in a toolkit of our own making. Use a thoughtful process to share your words. Embrace the magic, meaning and power of the written word and use it to good purpose. You won’t regret it, I promise.
Stressed? Anxious? Over-Worked? Meditation is the perfect cure for 21st century malaise.
Meditation is an incredibly powerful panacea that can help anyone to become calmer, happier, more productive, more creative… and ultimately just a better version of themselves.
Studies show us that meditation can help to increase alpha and theta brainwaves to help induce states of calm.
It can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it can thicken grey matter in the prefrontal cortex to boost focus and creativity.
This ebook, The Calm Mind, will guide you through everything you need to know, putting the tools in your hands to use as you need.
The different types of mediation and how they differ:
From kundalini meditation, to transcendental, to nada, to mindfulness. Each does something different and unique, and you’ll discover some fascinating examples.
How to choose the right kind for you:
With so much out there, how do you know where to begin? We’ll simplify things.
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Mindfulness is adjacent to, but distinct from meditation. Learn how to use it here.
How to use mindfulness to overcome anxiety:
More powerful still is cognitive behavioural therapy. When paired with mindfulness, this can eradicate anxiety and stress.
How to improve your lifestyle and mindset to drive anxiety away:
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