January 17, 2020. By Jennifer Wolsfberg

At some point in our lives, we all find ourselves taking on the role of a caregiver for a loved one.  This can take many forms, with most cases involving caring for a child, spouse, parent or friend.   Whether the catalyst leading to the need for assistance is the result of an emergency or a longstanding condition, being aware of the risk for compassionate care burnout has never been more important. Those that have served in this role for an extended period, or even a short duration but under extreme trauma, understand all too well the toll it can take on an individual emotionally, mentally and physically.

Even if you are yet to experience serving in this role, I am quite sure you have seen a friend or co-worker suffering with this battle.  While for years we have celebrated the ability to multi-task in the workplace and in our personal lives, the wear and tear and pressure over time of separating your mind across a multitude of responsibilities, each carrying tremendous accountability, can be toxic to any task requiring your full attention and focus.

Let’s take the topic of caregiving stress a step further outside the realm and space of direct family or friendship. Let’s also include those occupations that integrate the role for a high level of personal responsibility as part of their service and primary focus.  While our first thought flows to medical professionals, such as nurses and physicians, we have now seen firsthand a similar theme (while perhaps not as extreme) effecting those in other industries and occupations.

In talking recently with an estate attorney, and then separately to a veterinarian, both shared a similar story of what we now view as compassionate care burnout.  While at first glance one may not see the connection as to how this is relevant to this very topic, I think you may find a mirroring narrative, and may also see how this applies to your own line of work.

The veterinarian recently transitioned from a large practice to a smaller one, and in between took two months off for “self-care”.  In talking in greater depth about her time away from the practice, she shared that to remain compassionate and present with her furry patients, stepping away to regenerate throughout her long career was essential.  The intensity of the day to day trauma, sadness and care for these animals and working with their families and owners takes a toll on any doctor. In order to avoid the loss of passion and purpose, she shared that stepping back was imperative to regenerate.

Let’s take this same theme and topic with the estate attorney as well.  While many families may proactively address estate planning needs, many families either never start or finish their planning even after the numerous attempts by their attorney encouraging them to meet, review, and sign. In the meantime, however, the unexpected emergency may occur and nothing is in place to protect the rights or assets of the individual from probate, or perhaps a less than optimal family dynamic to put it mildly. The attorney is then pulled into an emotional time that requires them to navigate the courts, stand in long probate lines, and communicate with family all during a time of intense grief.  This attorney shared that they often are exhausted from worry about clients that do not take action, and can grow upset since they know that most of these estate issues were avoidable.  The attorney shared as well that even the most organized estate plans are surrounded by sadness for her as these are families she has worked closely with for years and share a very personal bond.

We are so incredibly fortunate to live in a time where medical care and treatment options have never been better to alleviate the pain of loved ones and to provide hope for a cure for those treatable.  We also live in a time where technology has been more powerful keeping us connected to our families and advancing our businesses providing efficiencies.

The challenge is we are still human and what makes us special is the connection we have and can provide one another that gives our lives purpose, responsibility and meaning.  It provides support to one another to get through the difficult times and this cannot be fast-tracked.

Take the time to review what your needs are as a caregiver whether this role is with family and caring for an elderly parent, a sick child or friend.   The need to address your own care needs and provide yourself with space to regenerate will only make you a better caretaker, friend and professional for the long-term.  But what does selfcare even mean?   It feels a bit corny to say it aloud right?  You feel a bit guilty admitting you even need space?  This is a new term that we feel gets used often online and in general conversations, yet it is not something many are comfortable with talking about or understanding how it may relate to them personally.  It truly means something different to each individual whether it be exercise, escaping in your hobby for several hours, music, vacation and travel, a change in your environment by going to do errands and getting a cup of coffee in peace.

We have provided several links below that may serve as helpful resources, and as always we are here to provide support and planning assistance for you and your family in all capacities:

  • How to Manage Compassion Fatigue: Ted Talk by Patricia Smith on the importance of caregivers maintaining their emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
  • Caregiver Action Network: The Caregiver Action Network provides family caregivers with education and resources to better manage their responsibilities.
  • Family Caregiver Alliance: A national directory of resources and services for family caregivers.
  • CaringBridge.org: Keep friends and family updated and informed with a CaringBridge website to reduce time spent on outreach and answering text messages.