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Balancing my compassion

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You feel you have less energy and find it harder than usual to care for your loved one. What is going on?

Compassion for the suffering and condition of the person you are caring for may involve psychological, emotional and physical imbalances. How can you balance your compassion and conserve your energy? Practical tips on listening to what your body is telling you.

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Compassion: finding a balance

Compassion is a value that makes us all capable of humanity and sensitivity.

Compassion is one of the key elements that drives the caregiver. It gives meaning to their interaction with the person they are caring for, for whom they generally feel empathy, benevolence or patience.

In the long run, compassion for their charge may result in psychological, emotional and physical imbalances and burnout. Faced with their role, they gradually lose themselves in a labyrinth; over time, they may neglect themselves and risk burnout.

Caregivers are often unaware of the role of compassion on their own condition. They feel that they are not doing well but have difficulty identifying the causes, especially since many factors can be involved:

Many caregivers feel powerless. One difficulty they face is accepting the current situation as it is. They often put a lot of energy into trying to control the future or dealing with the losses related to the condition or illness of the person they are caring for, even though there is not always a solution. Focusing on the things we can do helps prevent this feeling of helplessness.

Similarly, investing oneself without considering the consequences could trigger the resurfacing of a difficult past. Personal balance is even more fragile depending on the nature of the current or previous relationship with the person being cared for.

How can you avoid being overwhelmed by compassion? How can you adjust your values to the reality of the life you want? How do you deal with the suffering of the person you are caring for without bearing it yourself? Is there anything you can do to change?

Specific cases

Examples

Feeling of detachment and/or loss of interest

Questioning the humanity and meaning of life and/or commitment to the person being cared for

Feeling of powerlessness

A caregiver’s sister keeps telling her: “you should take care of yourself,” “you should do this or that,” “you should,” “why don’t you do that?” Over time, the caregiver doubts their role.

Difficulty in regaining energy

Difficulty sleeping, fatigue

Deep exhaustion, both physical and emotional

A middle-aged man cares for his brother who has type 2 diabetes. He lives with him. He tells the Caregiver Support counselor that he feels like he is in a prison at home. His brother’s diabetes requires a lot of monitoring. He says he has gradually lost his energy and is no longer fully able to help his brother.

Need to isolate oneself

The caregiver takes care of their father who is losing his autonomy. The family is large and caring and the father’s home is visited frequently. The caregiver receives all kinds of advice, but little concrete help. The caregiver feels an increasing need to withdraw from the family, even though they have always been very close.

Eating disorders

High emotionality

Anger, worry, anxiety, even intolerance

The caregiver thinks that they are exhausted. They are constantly in tears, and are convinced that they are no longer able to provide care. They decide to share their feelings with a friend.

Listening to yourself

This is the paradox of the caregiver: in order to be attentive to the person you are caring for, you have to be attentive to yourself. This may seem difficult because every minute is precious.

Listening to yourself means:

  • Developing an awareness of our own feelings;
  • In daily life, growing and maintaining clarity in relation to how we feel;
  • Listening to the signals that our body and mind send us;
  • Being on the lookout for imbalances that may arise;
  • Identifying and stimulating the things that make us feel good.

Eight tips for maintaining compassion

  1. Get to know yourself: this means being attentive and sensitive to your own needs;
  2. Learn to spot the signs that you are doing well, or not so well;
  3. Recognize the signals that indicate changes in how you are performing;
  4. Continually evaluating yourself. Your needs and limitations may change over time. Open yourself to the idea of readjusting, if necessary, readjust your level of commitment to the person being cared for;
  5. Focus on decoding yourself, deciphering, feeling and recognizing what is going on inside you;
  6. Focus on what is happening in the present moment;
  7. For today, do the best you can. That will already be a lot;
  8. Do small things every day to maintain your balance and health. For example, you can take a nap, go for a walk in a favourite place or drink a hot coffee or your favourite beverage.

If it doesn’t feel natural, prioritizing your own needs helps you maintain your own balance and also gives you the energy to support the person you are caring for.

Questions and possible solutions

I read an article that used the term “compassion fatigue”…

Yes, this term is often used. The word “fatigue” illustrates what can happen: an emotional and physical erosion that takes place when caregivers are no longer able to recharge their batteries. We also speak of “caring fatigue” or “caring exhaustion.” Behind these expressions lies a reality that you may be dealing with and for which services adapted to your needs are available.

I would like to have more concrete support from those around me. How do I make this happen?

Care mapping can help you in this process by identifying your needs and your support network. Also, consult the practical advice for caregivers page and how to help without becoming overextended, how to smooth over family relationships, and learn more from the caregiver support guide [in French]. And remember, adopting the whistling kettle strategy will encourage you to share your feelings with someone you trust before things boil over.

I need to hear or read testimonials from people who are going through the same thing as me. Where can I find these stories?

Listen up on stories from caregivers [in French] or participate in support groups. Books on the topic of compassion with testimonials from caregivers are listed in the Caregiver section of Biblio-Santé.

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