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Live Well: Compassion Fatigue

March 15, 2024


Compassion fatigue, sometimes called empathy overload, occurs when caregivers take on the suffering of those they care for.

A caregiver is anyone who provides care or support to a person with limitations due to an illness, injury, or disability. This may include caring for a child with special needs, a neighbor who just had surgery, or an aging family member.

Caregivers have a tendency to put the needs of others ahead of their own, and take on a wide variety of roles, such as preparing meals, managing medications, assisting with bathing, handling finances, and much more.

The demands of caregiving can become overwhelming without proper self-care and support, which can leave caregivers feeling drained and unable to provide care for themselves or others.

Left unaddressed, compassion fatigue can lead to caregiver burnout, a condition characterized by mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. It has been estimated that more than 60% of caregivers experience burnout, which is why it is important to learn how to recognize the signs.

If you are a caregiver, here are some signs that it might be time to ask for help:

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • feeling emotionally exhausted
  • feeling numb or emotionally detached
  • delaying your own healthcare appointments or treatments
  • neglecting self-care
  • loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • feeling anxious or on edge
  • increasing conflicts in personal relationships
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, or dizziness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • feeling like you have nothing left to give

Sometimes caregivers aren’t able to recognize when they need help. If you are concerned about the wellbeing of a caregiver, here are some warning signs to watch for:

  • increased anxiety, sadness, or anger
  • difficulty making decisions
  • frequently being argumentative
  • emotional outbursts
  • withdrawal or self-isolation
  • increased use of substances to self-medicate

If you feel overwhelmed, have suicidal thoughts, or worry that you may hurt someone you are caring for, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline anywhere in Canada. You will be immediately connected with someone who can help you find support.

Reaching out to ask for help shows strength, resilience, and a keen self-awareness.