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Caregiver Compassion Fatigue: What it is and How to Prevent it

Published on June 2, 2022 by Sharon Morrisette

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By the nature of their work, caregivers are usually empathetic and compassionate individuals. They take care of people’s physical and emotional well-being on a daily basis. Over time, always taking care of others may take a toll on some caregivers. They may experience stress, tension, numbness, and indifference. 

This article will explain what compassion fatigue is, and the measures home care agencies and caregivers can take to prevent it.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue stems from taking care of vulnerable people or those in traumatic or extremely unfortunate situations, such as chronic or fatal illnesses, over a long period. 

It is an occupational hazard for doctors, nurses, mental health, and general health professionals and can contribute to people leaving their industry to pursue other career opportunities.

Caregivers commonly experience compassion fatigue as well, since their job presents physical, psychological and emotional challenges. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP’s 2020 report (PDF download);

  • 4 in 10 caregivers consider their caregiving situation to be highly stressful.
  • 1 in 4 caregivers finds it difficult to take care of their own health.
  • 1 in 4 caregivers also reports caregiving has made their own health worse.

Compassion fatigue vs. burnout

Compassion fatigue differs from burnout, which occurs when a person starts disassociating from their job and experiences emotional and physical exhaustion, negative feelings about their work, and hopelessness. 

On the other hand, compassion fatigue is a secondary traumatic stress disorder that emerges when people are regularly exposed to another person’s trauma, a stressful work environment, excessive hours and/or lack of resources. 

If the person experiencing compassion fatigue recognizes the symptoms, it’s easier to treat and take preventative measures than burnout.

What are the symptoms of compassion fatigue?

To prevent compassion fatigue, the first step is to recognize its symptoms. 

There are many signs to look for when you suspect you or someone else may be experiencing compassion fatigue. For caregivers, being self-aware and seeking help is key to attending to your stress and fatigue levels. Whereas, if you manage a team of caregivers, you should look for the signs of compassion fatigue and provide support to those experiencing it.

Most people going through compassion fatigue experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Headaches
  • Heightened stress, anxiety or depression
  • Irritability and feelings of anger or resentment
  • Decreased levels of patience, tolerance, and compassion
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling disconnected from caregiving
  • Isolating self from loved ones
  • Self-medication or addiction.

Impact of compassion fatigue on home care agencies

Compassion fatigue is among the reasons caregivers leave the profession entirely. Since caregiver retention is one of the biggest challenges for home care agencies, it’s important to establish the right strategy to prevent it.   

How to prevent compassion fatigue?

There are many ways home care agencies can help prevent compassion fatigue in caregivers and things caregivers can do to protect themselves from it.

Teaching caregivers about the symptoms of compassion fatigue can increase their awareness of symptoms in other caregivers as well as themselves.

Tips for home care agencies

  • Communication: Compassion fatigue can impact your caregivers’ performance. It’s important to check in with your caregivers before critiquing them. Allow them to be open about how they are coping and emphasize that it’s okay for them to ask for help. You can also cultivate a positive company culture that’s founded on open communication within your caregiver team by organizing occasional social events.
  • Support: Some employees, especially new recruits, can benefit from a mentorship program that matches them with a more experienced caregiver. A mentor can be crucial support in understanding and addressing issues related to being a caregiver, such as compassion fatigue.
  • Downtime: When caregivers feel strained and overwhelmed, they should be able to take time off. Using scheduling software that allows caregivers to decide when to take shifts and adapt to their schedule is key to giving them autonomy over their working hours and wellbeing.
  • Encouragement: To keep your caregivers motivated and happy, you can recognize and reward them when they reach their goals, complete a new training, or receive good feedback from your clients.

Tips for caregivers

  • Support of loved ones: No one in this world can possibly overcome all their challenges alone, and they must seek help in times of need. When you know you’re struggling, it’s key to first recognize that it’s okay and then talk to someone.
  • Self-care: Caregivers are essential workers and need to care for themselves to keep taking care of others. That includes taking care of their health and emotional well-being by eating well, spending time outdoors, exercising (even if it’s light exercise), getting enough sleep, spending time with loved ones, making time for their hobbies, etc.
  • Stress management: Stress is the biggest threat to our well-being and health. Having hobbies or doing activities that lower your stress levels is very important. Hobbies such as yoga, knitting, meditating, painting, playing instruments, and reading can promote a calmer outlook and naturally decrease anxiety and stress. 
  • Time off: Taking time off every once in a while allows you to recharge physically and emotionally. It gives you the power to do work that matters better than before. So it’s important to listen to your body when you get tired and need rest.

Smartcare Software is a holistic solution for home care agencies that responds to the challenges and needs of the agencies, their clients, their clients’ families, and caregivers.

Contact us today to learn more about how Smartcare Software can help you take better care of your caregivers and help protect them against compassion fatigue.