COMMENTARY BY KERRY LOY: The Emotional Toll of Caregiving
By Kerry Loy, For the Williamson Herald
Caring for a loved one, such as an aging parent or disabled child, is an act of compassion that requires patience and emotional fortitude. For many caregivers, the safety and well-being of the person in their care is their top priority, causing them to neglect their own health. While such sustained selflessness is commendable, it can have damaging long-term effects.
Some caregivers believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness, so they try to do everything by themselves, which contributes to exhaustion, stress, frustration and isolation. Others are convinced that they are the only person capable of providing the adequate level of care needed for their loved one, so they shoulder all of the responsibility of caring for that individual on their own, spreading themselves too thin and becoming burnt out. Being under such constant pressure is physically and emotionally draining.
Compassion fatigue is a common occurrence among caregivers who rarely take time for themselves. Someone battling compassion fatigue may experience a loss of their sense of self, disruptions in sleep, nightmares, mental and physical exhaustion, substance abuse, or exhibit signs of depression, among other symptoms. Over time, this condition can greatly affect caregivers’ quality of life and cause them to become cynical about serving others. With this in mind, it is essential that caregivers find a healthy balance between taking care of a loved one and taking care of themselves.
Below are a few tips to combat compassion fatigue.
Set self-care goals
Ensure that you take time out for yourself amidst the demands of caregiving. Take breaks periodically, and do something at least once a day that is strictly for your benefit and enjoyment. Go for a walk, read your favorite book, eat lunch with a friend – gratification may be found in caring for a loved one, but remember to make time for the other things you love to do and reconnect with the joy in your life. Enjoying time to yourself may seem unnatural or even selfish when someone is in need of your care. However, no one can take care of someone else to the best of their ability without nurturing themselves in the process. The benefits a caregiver is able to provide to a loved one increase when that caregiver is rested, energized, and in a positive state of mind.
Take time to recognize the aspects of caregiving that energize and motivate compared to those that are more taxing. Set strategies for how you will make the most of the rewarding moments and proactively overcome the challenging times.
Know your limits
Avoid juggling too many tasks at once, and don’t be afraid to say no if asked to do more. When you feel overwhelmed, prioritize your never-ending to-do list, as feeling organized will help you regain a sense of confidence and control over the situation.
Ask for help
Don’t feel like you must do everything yourself. Train several individuals to help you provide care and support for your loved one. Reaching out to others for assistance is not a sign of weakness or failure – rather, it further validates your commitment to providing excellent care. If you or someone you know is experiencing compassion fatigue, Centerstone’s Life Coaching Services can help. For more information or to schedule a free consultation, call 615-478-0688 or visit http://www.lifecoachingcenterstone.org/.
Kerry Loy, LCSW, MSSW, MTS, BCC is a Professional Life Coach for Centerstone who provides coaching for teens, college students, and adults. She may be reached at Kerry.Loy@centerstone.org. For information on Centerstone, call 888-291-4357 or visit www.centerstone.org.
Posted on: 12/6/2012