Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Taking Care of You: Self-Care for the Caregiver

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Taking Care of You: Self-Care for the Caregiver

Article excerpt

Helping others who are dealing with trauma can take a toll on caregivers. Over time, the stress of helping others can cause symptoms like anxiety, sleeplessness and irritability that interfere with everyday life. This response is often referred to as "compassion fatigue." Left untreated, compassion fatigue can lead to burnout and other conditions that may not go away on their own. If you work with victims of trauma, you can take steps to recognize, limit and treat these effects. Not everyone who helps others dealing with trauma develops compassion fatigue, and signs of stress don't necessarily point to compassion fatigue. They may simply be signals that you are tired or need a break.


Compassion fatigue can happen slowly over time, or it can come on suddenly. The signs are similar to the signs of posttraumatic stress but can vary greatly among individuals:

* Nervousness and anxiety: You may feel fearful about going out or be hyper-vigilant about your own and your family's safety.

* Anger and irritability: You may find yourself arguing with relatives, friends or co-workers or feeling angry with specific people or groups.

* Mood swings: Having compassion fatigue can make it difficult for you to control your emotions. You may feel fine one minute and find yourself suddenly crying or feeling anxious the next.

* Difficulty concentrating: Having trouble maintaining focus or difficulty making simple decisions may be signs of compassion fatigue. You may forget parts of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth or weekly errands.

* Changes in habits: You may be eating more or less than usual, or may be sleeping too much or not enough. You may also withdraw from others by becoming emotionally distant and detached.

* Physical changes: People suffering from compassion fatigue may experience headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, heart palpitations or shortness of breath. You may notice cold or flu-like symptoms. If you do have any of these physical changes, see your health care provider to rule out a medical ailment.

* Depression: Feeling sadness and grief, low self-esteem or a loss of interest in ordinary activities, or experiencing memory difficulties, extreme fatigue or frequent crying episodes are all also possible signs of compassion fatigue. If, at any time, you have suicidal thoughts, get help right away. The Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 can direct you to support resources in your community.


Untreated compassion fatigue can impair your performance at work or as a volunteer; therefore, it is important to get help promptly if you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities. …

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