You can prevent compassion fatigue
caring for a disabled loved one can lead to compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is a weariness of body and spirit, caused by the never-ending demands of caregiving. This form of burnout can come on quickly, and before you know it, you feel like you’ve hit the wall. You may even wonder if you can continue to be a caregiver. There are steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Your goal is to stop compassion fatigue before it stops you.

  • Assess the situation. Exhaustion may cloud your judgment and things may not be as bad as they seem. If you are unable to do this on your own, ask for help.
  • Consider your overall health. Do you have physical problems of your own, such as arthritis, or a sprained ankle? Illness can slow you down and change our outlook.
  • Check your support system. Family members and friends may have moved away, and although you feel alone, you can shore up your support system. This takes time, and is worth your time.
  • Determine if you’re down or depressed. There’s a huge difference between the two and you need to know the differences. You’ll find helpful articles on the Internet and other resources at the public library.
  • Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or colleague. One person can get you through a dark time. Venting your feelings makes you feel better, but don’t share too much at once. You don’t want to wear out the other person.
  • Each day, try to have one meaningful conversation. This conversation may be with a health professional, another family caregiver, certified counselor, or religious leader. Contact a friend that you haven’t seen in weeks.
  • Build “me time” into your days. A few minutes of doing something you enjoy, such as knitting, can boost your spirits. You may even wish to sign up for an adult education course.
  • Stay physically active. A short walk, 15 minutes in your neighborhood, can change your outlook. Your loved one may belong to a health club and the two of you may exercise together.
  • Take care of you. Don’t let others tell you how to do this. You’re the person who knows you best, and what makes you feel good.
  • Retain selected social contacts. Options include going out for coffee, attending a meeting, or having dinner with friends. A few minutes away from the demands of caregiving can save your day.
  • Monitor your self-talk. Once negative self-talk gets started, it’s hard to stop it, and will continue unless you take action. When a negative thought comes to mind, try to balance it with a positive one.
  • Affirm your caregiving with words. Writing affirmations about caregiving can change your attitude in surprising ways. Keep your affirmations short. One-sentence affirmations are easier to write and remember.

Learn more in Harriet’s book, The Family Caregiver’s Guide.

Written by Harriet Hodgson
Rochester resident Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for writing for 38 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 36 books. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support. She is also a contributing writer for The Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. Harriet has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, Harriet has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. All of Harriet’s work comes from her life. She is now in her 19th year of caregiving and cares for her disabled husband, John. For more information about this busy author, grandmother, wife, and caregiver please visit

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  1. My 96 year old dad just took another fall today. For the last few weeks, we have had a home health nurse coming to the house for wound therapy related to non healing leg wounds. She was scheduled to come today so I called and asked if she could come earlier and she said she’d be here in 15 minutes. The minute she arrived, I fell apart. She told me I was experiencing what every nurse experiences…adrenaline crash. I imagine compassion fatigue is another word for it. I was grateful she identified it immediately for me because I was just feeling like I was a selfish cry baby. The term helped me understand what I was going through. Still, it’s always going to be me who who does the caring, the worrying, and the crying.

  2. We can opt out and just leave too which I’ve had to do..

  3. The biggest problem I see is that most people have felt this, but not known what it was and sometimes breakdown occurs at unexpected or known times. I wonder what the actual rates are as to caregivers whom die before their loved ones due to their own health issues they were unaware of while trying to do the right thing by those they loved.

    • I don’t have the study in from of me, but AARP and another agency did a study a few years back, and if memory serves around a third die before their Loved One. Especially if they are caring for a loved one with dementia.

    • Having known this happening to other caregivers prior, I hadn’t realized it was that high, very sad. More senior resources arae really needed to assist and give breaks.

    • It not just eldercare that needs support. It is older adults too who are caring for their disabled adult children. The system is currently struggling and only going to worsen just with population numbers, and that is with the ACA intact. If the current political environment guts the ACA, we are all going to feel this burden- mainly in deaths.

  4. Can relate. Have lost all family except my son who has a low normal disability. I call the people who help (except professionals) Monday morning quarterbacks. Critical but no kindness to us. Life has been hard for my son and is harder with CLL and treatment. Know from experience it will get harder for us both. Cannot give up. We stay in good present health as possible with exercise and nutrition. Dogs and/or cats are good for depression. Funny movies on tv or theatre are good. Something about being in theater with no distractions are restful from problems. Eating out with good service and salad are relaxing. Sports on tv or at stadium are good. Can get cheap tickets if check for them. Then concentrate on ball and rest mind. Have list but don’t always work. Then I cry all night. Have RA but won’t let doc load me with meds as my son might need me and I want my mind clear. Oh, yes, we have middle of night hot chocolate and talks. Besides no family we have no friends. My son does not have peers with his mental disability. We will keep on keeping on.

  5. The assumption that caregivers don’t know how to take care of themselves is in itself insulting.

    Caregivers actually need help not a bunch of well meaning advice on how to help themselves so they are not burned out.

    Instead of advices, I would prefer that well meaning people LEND a hand with physical work, LEND an ear for our rant without judging, LEND a shoulder to cry on, LEND money so we can make ends meet, or LEND your time so we can take a break.

    Trust caregivers, they know how to selfcare
    IF they were surrounded by people who are willing to help (contrary to popular beliefs, helpers are scarce or do not exist),
    OR IF they had monetary resources to hire professional help,
    OR IF there were faith organization who truly practice helping those in need,
    OR IF our society recognized how valuable the unpaid family caregivers are and help them in their journey…the list of IFs can go on forever.

  6. Sadly, it’s always the same well-meant but naive litany of non-advice: “take care of yourself” — meaning what and at whose expense? “ask for help” — of whom in a society structured either to profit by unaffordable “help” or that assumes that relatives abound in old age or that there’s a well-meaning good Samaritan neighbor next door…the latter, incidentally, for whom I am a caregiver! And prayer…as a child of a lesser god, it was tried and found wanting.

  7. I have to take a break because I get tired mentally and physically. It’s easy to have a short fuse when you’re fatigued.

    • It doesn’t help when family members who are not caregivers tell you you just sit around all day.

  8. Reach out to every organization there is. Get respite care. Your children should qualify for services, disability, In Home Health service. Check the regional centers in your area,
    Social Services should also be able to help. These are programs that should help everyone with health issues. Young and old. Bless you all.

  9. Guys…
    Im so exhausted and fatigued i cant put into words. Had hme fire year ago after bringing terminally ill son home from nursing home…lost everything lid in hotel for a month no help plus i have a special needs son an epileptic son a daughter who had two major surgeried in six months an another daughter with no problems. Im getting divorced im so stressed hair is falling out….im kadder than hell that there are no options for us. Put back into a nursing home and tjey abuse but state wants to tell me what i can and can not do….they come every month to do reports (normal for dc patients) people have lied andcalled cps and im at the end of my rope….i want to leave i want to scream im not getting sleep my health is in the pit andi want to run away NOW!!! He has been yelling since three o clock this morning im going crazy….i have no more energy to give out no emotional support no nothing trying to o the best i can and not send him to a home were its hell. I feel so lost and angry ….lost so much including myself….people dont get it!!!!!$

  10. Dedicated to all the caregivers out there
    Written 8/26/15

    And Counting

    A hundred thousand steps
    And counting
    Sleepless nights
    Bills keep mounting

    Catch a wink
    Here and there
    Exhaustion is
    Normal fare

    Kiss a cheek
    Hold a hand
    Say a prayer
    Someday they’ll stand

    Days are long
    Nights are longer
    Hoping for a miracle
    Needing to be stronger

    Sometimes we weep
    For Heaven’s sake
    And ask God please
    Give us a break

    Moment to moment
    We live on the edge
    But never give up
    Keeping our pledge

    We are more than six million
    And counting
    Caring caregiving careliving
    And the numbers keep mounting

    Keep mounting
    Keep mounting

    Theresa Loder

    Published online on the caregiver space

  11. Nobody wants to help you. They are too busy living their lives.

  12. This answered where I am just now thank you it can be hard but can be done it’s the motivation I need now it seems to have dwindled,my support circle is basically nil tho I do have professional carers three afternoons it is up to me to use the time wisely.

  13. Yet another article to throw more back upon the shoulders of the caregiver…who is running the show over there? Ayn Rand? We need help.

    Not informing us that we should put more on our plates.

  14. Get lots of prayer support. Ask for help (easier said than done, I know). Carve out time for yourself. My fave way to replenish myself is a bubble bath…works wonders!

  15. It is very hard. The common advice I get from medical professionals is to take care of myself.


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