In my work, I’ve seen the challenges faced by caregivers. Caregiving, which is often a 24-hour job, can lead to burnout, fatigue, and mental and physical illnesses. Yet the job of caregiving does not usually come with weekends off or vacation time. Often caring for a friend or family member involves midnight calls, canceled plans, and unpredictable schedules. Even when trying to maintain a semblance of balance, caregivers’ attempts at self-care can be upended by the needs of the loved one needing care. Caregivers may miss their weekly yoga class, therapist appointment, or solitary walk in the woods when confronted with an emergency trip to the hospital, medications that need to be refilled, or increased emotional needs of the loved one for whom they care.
A recent article in The Washington Post by Steven Petrow addressed these issues, citing Compassion Fatigue as a real issue not just for professional caregivers, but for all of us trying to help loved ones in need. Quoting Patricia Smith, founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, Petrow writes, “It can take hold in any person who cares for others who are in pain or suffering,” says Smith. “Family/friend/relative caregivers are highly susceptible to compassion fatigue due to the intense, intimate and emotional care they provide.”
When I was a pastor, I would often see parishioners overwhelmed by the caregiving needs of a spouse or a parent. Depression, irritability, fatigue, and anxiety are real concerns for those in a primary (or even secondary) caregiving role. In these cases, the cliche that you can’t help others unless you first help yourself rings true. One of my former parishioners found renewal through quilting, while another was rejuvenated by time spent swimming leisurely laps at the pool. Yet even these simple activities required coordination, scheduling time when the loved one needing care would be resting or finding a friend or family member to come to the house for an hour.
In his article, Petrow stresses the importance of, “…identifying personal needs and finding ways to release stress.” For some, this is spending time alone, reading, or going for a walk. For others, it is spending time with friends, having a night out on the town. Creative pursuits, such as writing, painting or crafting, can be good stress-relievers. Exercise is always good for physical and mental health, whether it be a stroll around the neighborhood, mountain biking, or training for a marathon.
Patricia Smith, of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, suggests developing a Self-Care Plan unique to the individual caregiver’s needs. If you are a caregiver struggling with burnout or compassion fatigue and would like help developing a Self-Care Plan, we at Rites of Passage, LLC can help. Through our Spiritual Care Coaching program, we will learn about your unique situation, help you identify what brings meaning and joy to your life, and assist you in determining how to incorporate more of those activities into your caregiving responsibilities. We approach Spiritual Care Coaching not with judgment or answers, but with a willingness to be fully present to you and your life circumstances.