Compassion fatigue: how to recognize and prevent it?
02 October 2020
Being a caregiver can be very demanding and require us to draw on our stores of energy, strength, patience and compassion on a daily basis. How can we prevent compassion fatigue, a risk that is ever more present in these challenging times?
Compassion fatigue is defined as a deep emotional and physical erosion that takes place when people providing care are no longer able to unwind and recharge their batteries. It is “related to an extreme compassion, a deep desire to help another person even if this means neglecting oneself, which leads to a loss of psychological, emotional and physical energy. It is a fatigue that sets in slowly and gradually and occurs when the person providing help is no longer able to unwind and renew their energy.” (Fortier, 2018)
Compassion fatigue may translate into:
- Profound exhaustion, both physical and emotional
- Anger, worry, anxiety and even intolerance
- A feeling of detachment and/or loss of interest
- A very strong feeling of helplessness
- Being highly emotional
- A need to be alone
- Questioning humanity and the purpose of life
- Trouble sleeping, fatigue and burnout
- Eating disorders
To tackle this situation:
- Take a moment to step back and identify the sources of stress.
- Identify what can be changed and what cannot. Ask yourself: “What is within my power?”
- Become aware of how you interact and intervene with your loved one. For example, what are the values, beliefs and intentions, etc., that underly your actions?
- Practise self-care: relaxation, determine “how am I going to get rid of my stress?”, eat well, make sure to get a good night’s rest, participate in activities (recreational, cultural, etc.), keep a social life.
- Make a commitment to yourself: set boundaries and know your own limits (time, respite, priority, realistic expectations, level of energy, meaning of your commitment, motivations, etc.).
- Seek help and support (social and professional support).
- Practise receiving and appreciating affection and support from others.
- Practise kindness toward yourself: do not judge your thoughts or emotions. Focus on your successes and put difficult situations into perspective. Learn to recognize your limits before you reach them. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend if they were going through difficult times—with kindness and understanding.
- Use a caremap to identify the people willing to help you.
Practical tools and references
- Practical advice for caregivers (Douglas, Mental Health University Institute)
- Caregivers to the Elderly: Maintaining Life Balance while Caregiving (Laurentides region)
- Prendre soin de moi tout en prenant soin de l’autre, Guide d’accompagnement à l’intention des personnes aidantes (Chaudières Appalaches region) (available in French only)
- APPUI Mauricie (2018). Prendre soin de moi tout en prenant soin de l’autre : guide de prévention de l’épuisement aux proches aidants, 2nd edition (available in French only):
- Arcand, M. and L. Brissette (2012). Accompagner sans s’épuiser, France, Éditions ASH. (available in French only)
- Fortier, M. (2018). Usure de compassion : jusqu’où aller sans se brûler?, Presses Inter Universitaires, Québec, 90 p. (available in French only)
- Gounongbé, Ari (2013). Fatigue de compassion, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. (available in French only)
Caregiver Support is also here to help you on this journey. Don’t hesitate to contact by email or phone (1 855 852-7784) our counsellors who can help direct you toward solutions and available resources and thus help you get through this period of uncertainty.
Need to talk?
Contact our Caregiver Support Helpline for counselling, information et referrals.
Every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Free of charge.