Sympathetic, compassionate, and kind-hearted describes caregivers no matter who they are caring for. Teachers, nurses, physicians, adult children caring for aging parents, police officers, firefighters, veterinarians, veterinary technicians are all dedicated to helping others. Each of us is a caregiver. Our friends, family, and the animals that share our lives need us. We enjoy feeling needed; using our unique gifts to contribute to the well-being of others is rewarding. Caregiving can also be stressful and emotionally draining at times, but you don't have to be a professional caregiver to know that.
When we begin to become overwhelmed by stress and suddenly feel incapable of caring for others, we might be suffering from compassion fatigue. Compassion Fatigue affects those who significantly empathize and internalize stress while caring for others. It can affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Compassion Fatigue is "a process through which the caregiving individual's own internal experience become transformed through engagement with the client's trauma," said McCann and Pearlman, pioneers of traumatology.
We know many of our clients and pet community members support and volunteer with rescue groups and animal shelters as we do. Those involved in rescue experience both sides of the coin; the very best of pet lovers, as well as people at their worst putting animals in difficult or life-threatening situations. Being the voice for animals can be difficult. We feel called to do all in our power to ensure our animals, as well as the animals we care for, are content and healthy. Continually faced with this responsibility can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue.
Understanding that compassion fatigue is very real among all caregivers, knowing the symptoms to watch for, and what steps to take to relieve stress is paramount in keeping yourself and your caregiving friends healthy so we can continue to devote ourselves to others.
Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue
Feeling exhausted yet difficulty sleeping
Increased cynicism and/or irritability
Feeling emotionally drained
Working harder but getting less done
Feeling stressed and/or ill – more aches and pains
Feeling deep sadness, helpless
Isolation, no longer finding enjoyment in usual activities
Compulsive behaviors – overspending, overeating, increased alcohol consumption
Burnout and compassion fatigue symptoms can overlap. Burnout occurs gradually with increased perception of symptoms, while CF is typically acute. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know here is a link that can help.
The Professional Quality of Life Scale, developed by Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm, is a series of questions designed to determine if you are suffering from burnout or compassion fatigue. The test assesses the level of stress caregivers are experiencing so that each of us can develop techniques to alleviate stress before suffering burnout or compassion fatigue. Realizing that we take our role as caregivers personally, often internalizing the stress caring for people and animals, we need a system in place in our own lives to help us deal with this stress.
Ways to Alleviate Stress
Clarify personal boundaries – what works for you and what does not
Be grateful for the good in everyday occurrences
Stay physically active
Spend 15min in nature each day (we highly recommend outdoor activities with your best friend!)
Practice deep breathing techniques
Take time to have FUN
Surround yourself with supportive friends
Make sure you reach out, asking specific questions and checking on other caregivers
Meditation and/or spiritual endeavors can be helpful
Specific support groups are available for caregivers of all types
Living Happy and Healthy
Make self-care a priority. Allow yourself to feel sad and empathize with friends and clients experiencing loss or heartache as they encounter difficult times. Realize as care professionals and caregivers that we can’t internalize every tragic situation. Take decisive action to change your environment and your practices to enable yourself to manage stress.
Reach out to the caregivers in your life; make sure they know they are appreciated. The only way we can continue to give the care that each person and each animal deserves is if we take care of ourselves and our fellow caregivers.
Each of us at S'wooft is devoted to helping you care for your pets. Using our unique talents to contribute to your pets’ well-being is rewarding; we appreciate the opportunity to be of service. We hope that by tackling this tough subject, we have provided a platform for you to continue this discussion and realize the importance of incorporating stress-reducing activities in your daily life.
Caregivers Support Groups
Support for pet caregivers