In its 2018 Survey of unpaid carers Carers UK states that 72% of unpaid carers in the UK said that they had suffered mental ill health as a result of caring.
This carer fatigue or compassion fatigue has been recognised as a distinct set of symptoms since the work of Dr Charles Figley in the late 1980’s. Initially this concept was recognised in human health care and animal care staff but now it is widely recognised that anyone in a caring role can suffer the effects over time. It is the natural and normal reaction to being immersed in another person’s illness and suffering and the consequence of compassion.
Caring for someone you love can of course be in equal parts rewarding and challenging and its easy to put the way you feel down to simply being tired.
But if you begin to feel anxious all the time having trouble switching off or sleeping, finding you are more irritable than normal, or withdrawing from people and feeling overwhelmed these can be the symptoms of compassion fatigue. If you do feel like this it is really important to do something about it as if you don’t the symptoms may worsen over time and you will find it harder and harder to care for your loved one.
You can only give from what you have so you need to regularly refill your emotional energy in the same way as you feed your physical body when you are hungry.
Try to fit in a little time each day to do something you enjoy, it can be as simple as reading a book or going for a walk or having a long bath.
Talk to people who are not connected with your life as a carer and those who always make you feel happy and good about yourself.
Take a little exercise every day, try things like yoga and pilates as these help to reduce stress levels as do other complementary therapies such as reflexology or acupuncture.
Eat well, don’t be tempted to comfort eat too much or eat sugary snacks, the effect of these are to spike your blood sugar which can actually add to your anxiety and then make you feel low when the effects wear off.
If things are really getting too much, find someone to talk to or join a group where you can share your experiences. Your GP can be a good start or one of the charities set up to support carers.
Taking care of yourself is not selfish it’s the responsible thing to do to enable to you continue to being the compassionate carer that your loved one needs and you want to be.