There are a number of warning signs for the concepts that fall under compassion fatigue. Perfectionists put themselves at risk, as do people who are naturally self-giving and those who are overly conscientious (Bush, 2009). Those who deal with a high level of stress in their personal lives, and people who do not have much social support, also struggle with compassion fatigue (Bush, 2009). Each one of these areas into which people fall is very important when it comes to how they handle care giving and/or whether they begin to lose the compassion they have for others. The common warning signs that come with perfectionists are those that are specifically related to their desire for control, and their need to do everything correctly. If they fail at something, or if things do not turn out just the right way, they can end up feeling very lost, angry, and defeated (Bush, 2009). This hurts them, and the people they are caring for, and can lead them to feel fatigued.
People who give of themselves are prime candidates for compassion fatigue (Coe, 2010). That is largely because they are generally so focused on what they can do to help others that they do not spend enough time thinking about their own needs (Bush, 2009). As they ignore their needs in favor of helping others, they begin to get numb and unfeeling. They may not understand why this is taking place, and may try to do more for people in order to combat the feeling of not having enough compassion for others (Espeland, 2006). This can be successful, but does not always help them move past the issue. If they are truly developing compassion fatigue, the key to addressing it is not to do more for others, but to do more for themselves, instead. There is a limit to how giving a person can realistically be before it becomes dangerous for him or her on a number of levels (Espeland, 2006). Once that limit has been reached or exceeded, compassion fatigue can become a real issue.
For overly conscientious people, concerns over compassion fatigue are also highly significant. These people are similar to perfectionists in that they want to make everything right, but they are more focused on "right" in a moral sense (Coe, 2010). They want to focus on the people about whom they care, and they want to provide what those people need. Often, they do this at great expense to themselves in many ways, and they have a guilty conscience if they do not provide help and hope to the people from whom they care (Coe, 2010). This can become a serious problem for them, however, because many of the people they care for are not going to get better. These could be people who are in hospice, or those who have significant, chronic illnesses. When there is nothing that can be done for these people, those who are caring for them may feel that they are personally not doing enough, and that the struggles of the person needing the care is based on the lack of ability of the caregiver, even though there is significant evidence to the contrary (Espeland, 2006).
Personal stress can also cause problems with compassion fatigue, because one stress simply builds on another (Coe, 2010). The stresses they face in their work are not relieved when they go home, because they have other stresses they have to deal with that are personal. This is compounded if they are full-time caregivers for someone in their home, or if they care for someone at home and also work in a caring profession (Espeland, 2006). The personal stress a person deals with does not have to be related to care giving in order to be problematic. It can be based on anything, and still be a serious issue. The difficulty lies not in the type of stress experienced, but in the fact that the person does not get a break from stress between home and work (Coe, 2010). Without that break, the person will struggle and not have any time to focus on himself or herself and the things he or she can do in order to lower stress levels and begin to feel better and more relaxed.
People without social support do not have anyone to talk to about the fears they have and the compassion fatigue they are feeling. This makes them highly vulnerable, since stress can build up very quickly when a person does not have an outlet for it (Coe, 2010). There are ways in which stress can be relieved, but talking to others and receiving support and encouragement can go a very long way toward making sure a person can handle the levels of stress with which he or she has to deal (Espeland, 2006). When social support is lacking, the caregiver loses that important connection with others who are sympathetic to the issues he or she faces, or with others who understand what he or she might be going through (Bush, 2009). When there is no connection with others, the loneliness and isolation the caregiver feels only exacerbates the compassion fatigue (Coe, 2010). Being able to reduce that fatigue is important, and a human, personal, social connection with others is very valuable in that regard. While it does not take away stress, it can help a person handle that stress more easily.
Caregivers can have physical, spiritual, and emotional needs that need to be met. It can be difficult to handle all of these, but the more of them that can be met the better chance a person will have to address the stress that can lead to compassion fatigue. One of the ways to handle the physical needs of someone struggling with compassion fatigue is through exercise (Coe, 2010). It is a great way for a person to focus on himself or herself for a while, and it is also an excellent way to lower stress levels (Coe, 2010). By helping to reduce the levels of stress with which a person is struggling, physical exercise can be one of the best things a caregiver can do in order to reduce compassion fatigue. Additionally, pampering can help. This can include things like getting a massage or taking a spa day. It may be difficult for a caregiver to get time off to do these things, but avoiding burnout and fatigue should be a main focus in the life of a caregiver (Coe, 2010).
The spiritual issues a caregiver faces are also important, at least for many caregivers who are dealing with compassion fatigue. Not every caregiver is spiritual, of course, as there are those who do not subscribe to religious or spiritual beliefs but still care deeply for other people and make excellent caregivers. For those who are spiritually inclined, it is important that they find ways to exercise that spirituality and spend time with their chosen belief system in order to reduce their levels of stress (Bush, 2009). One of the ways that can be done is through prayer (Espeland, 2006). Many different religions and spiritual practices discuss the benefits of prayer for feeling connected, releasing stress, and acquiring comfort. With that in mind, those who are dealing with compassion fatigue may find that praying helps them feel safe and comforted, and gives them strength they can use to get through difficult times when they are caring for others (Espeland, 2006). Meditation is similar to prayer in many ways, and can also be very effective for those who are spiritual but who do not subscribe to any specific religion, along with those who are religious (Coe, 2010).
There are emotional needs that also must be addressed for caregivers to reduce their chances of compassion fatigue and burnout. That is one of the reasons that social support is so important, because being social with others can help to meet a person's emotional needs. People who are very emotional can make some of the best caregivers, because they are genuinely invested in the outcome of the situation and how the person being cared for is truly doing (Coe, 2010). Unfortunately, being a good caregiver because a person is emotional can also become problematic because that emotional person may find that he or she is becoming too invested in the care of others (Coe, 2010). When that takes place, it can stop a person from taking good care of himself or herself because he or she is too focused on the emotional needs of the person being cared for, instead of practicing proper self-care, as well.
There are coping strategies and resources that can be used by caregivers, and these can help to reduce compassion fatigue. Unfortunately, there is no "cure" for compassion fatigue, and it is something that many caregivers struggle with even after they change jobs or stop caring for a friend or family member (Espeland, 2006). In short, no longer being required to care for someone does not…