Home caregiving can be a very rewarding career path, but it's not always an easy job. If you are a home caregiver, you're probably exposed to emotionally stressful situations frequently, maybe even on a daily basis. It's tough to watch a favorite client's health decline, for instance. And working as a caregiver often involves spending lots of time around people who are in pain or worried about what the future might hold.
Because of the inherent risks of the job, it's important for home caregivers to be aware that they may be susceptible to burning out emotionally. When emotional burnout becomes severe enough that it impairs a caregiver's ability to do their job, it's known as compassion fatigue. Many people who provide home care services avoid talking about this type of emotional burnout. Nobody wants to admit that they're struggling to deal with the day-to-day realities of their job. But it's crucially important to bring more awareness to this issue so that caregivers can get the help that they themselves need.
What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion is an important quality for every home caregiving professional to have. In fact, it's nearly impossible to do this type of work without having a great deal of compassion for clients and their families. But compassion is not an infinite resource. Even the most caring and empathetic people can become overwhelmed when they're faced with emotionally stressful situations every day. People who are particularly compassionate may actually be at higher risk for becoming too overwhelmed to cope.
When a caregiver is under too much mental or emotional duress for too long, they may find themselves becoming disengaged from their clients without meaning to. They may feel irritable or even angry with difficult clients, or they may simply find it hard to care about the client's pain anymore. This emotional fatigue can persist for months without treatment. It's a big part of the reason why some caregivers end up seeking other types of work.
It's important to understand that this condition can happen to anybody. If it happens to you, it's not a sign that you're failing as a caregiver. Someone who develops this condition has simply been pushed past their own limits. Feeling disengaged from a client is an emergency coping mechanism for people who are so stressed that they can't deal emotionally with a situation anymore. In fact, the condition is classified as a secondary traumatic stress disorder. When a home caregiver develops emotional fatigue, it's a sure sign that they need to take some time away from stressors and focus on self-care for a while.
Could you have this condition or be at risk for developing it? Some of the most common signs of compassion fatigue include:
Feeling detached, or like you simply can't care about clients anymore.
Frequently feeling like you want to quit your job and do something less stressful.
Feeling tired, sad, overwhelmed, and burned out in general.
Feeling especially irritable or impatient with clients.
Struggling with anxiety or hopelessness.
Neglecting your own health and needs.
How to Prevent Compassion Fatigue
The best way to avoid compassion fatigue is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This is tough for home caregivers, but it is doable. The key is to make self-care a priority before you're burned out.
Health is the foundation for self-care, so caregivers who are worried about burning out should start there. Eating a healthy diet, getting daily exercise, and sleeping at least seven hours a night are important habits that all caregivers should adopt. Staying in good physical shape takes an investment of both time and effort, but it can really improve a person's mental and emotional resilience.
Don't forget about mental health, too. The mind requires as much care as the body does. Meditation is one simple and effective way for people to improve their mental well-being and happiness. Other ideas include writing in a journal, practicing gratitude every day, and spending regular time in nature without the distraction of a smartphone.
Finally, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for preventing emotional burnout. An ideal work-life balance will look a little different for everyone, since different people are able to manage different amounts of work and stress. The important thing is to find a balance that works for you. A few ways to improve work-life balance include prioritizing family time and personal time, limiting work hours, and maintaining hobbies that aren't related to work.
How to Heal when You're Burned Out
Recovering from compassion fatigue is a harder task than preventing it. For a home caregiver who feels burned out, getting some personal time should be a top priority. This can be difficult for caregivers who are accustomed to putting their work and clients first, but it is necessary. Emotional burnout does not get better on its own, and it can interfere with a caregiver's ability to do their job well. Caregivers must take care of themselves if they want to be able to care for others.
In addition to making time for yourself, try to get some mental distance from your work. Of course, this doesn't mean you should "check out" mentally while you're on the job, but it does mean that you should draw a clear line between your work and your personal life. Avoid bringing any work home with you if you can help it. Besides that, think about what you can realistically do for your clients and what you can't. Give yourself permission to not feel guilty for doing only what you reasonably can. You don't have to be superhuman.
Self-care, as always, should be a top priority for burned-out home caregivers. The physical and mental health tips in the section above will help you heal from emotional fatigue. In addition to caring for your health, don't hesitate to reach out for help yourself. Lean on your friends and family for support, and talk to your coworkers - they're likely to understand how you feel. It's easier to bounce back from emotional fatigue when you feel cared for and supported by your social network.
Home Care Services in California
Emotional burnout is a very real issue for home care services workers. If you think you may be burned out (or headed in that direction), it's important to seek help for yourself and prioritize your well-being in addition to your clients'. There's no need to feel guilty or ashamed — even the most wonderful and compassionate home caregivers are at risk for becoming overwhelmed. Reaching out for the support you need will help keep your compassion strong so you can continue to be the best caregiver possible. At Alegre Home Care, we look out for both clients and caregivers, so that everyone's wellbeing is always cared for. Check out our home care services here or if you are interested in a career at Alegre Home Care, check out our employment opportunities.