compassion fatigue

How Can I Avoid Compassion Fatigue While Helping Loved Ones?

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Whether a loved one is suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, working through a mental health disorder, or navigating the complex world of trauma recovery, it is common to want to provide support. Families and close friends play a vital role throughout a loved one’s recovery. They can be an invaluable resource for support and understanding while also creating a new atmosphere and traditions going forward. 

However, as a support, it is important not to ignore the toll that such a role places upon a person. Taking care of oneself is just as important as helping others and is essential for avoiding compassion fatigue and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and mindset. 

What Is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue can set in when an individual takes on too much of a service or support role without addressing their own needs to the same extent, resulting in feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, and lack of focus, among other symptoms. As a person continues to support those in recovery, they can continue to take on some of the stresses associated with the recovery process. 

Dealing with stress is crucial for all parties involved, and this secondary stress can prove to be just as difficult to cope with for supports as it is for those engaging in their recovery program directly. Being a support is exhausting, both physically and mentally, and avoiding compassion fatigue means identifying the stress that one is feeling and allowing themselves to focus inwards first and foremost. 

Some other symptoms that can indicate the onset of compassion fatigue are:

  • Emotional detachment
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Reduced empathy
  • Adopting a more pessimistic worldview
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Persistent exhaustion
  • Constant headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Inability to focus
  • Pervasive apathy 
  • Change in diet

Take Care of Yourself First

Putting all of oneself into supporting a loved one through such a tumultuous time is a noble endeavor. However, regardless of how altruistic one’s intentions, permitting yourself to take care of yourself should always come first. Not only is this important to avoid compassion fatigue and ensure that one’s own identity doesn’t become defined by their supportive actions, but also to ensure that a loved one’s support system remains consistent and impactful. 

Those suffering from compassion fatigue, on top of the personal ramifications and debilitations they experience, can also see the quality of their support suffer and grow continuously more pessimistic, callous, or detached from the heart of the support they are providing. Just as the stresses of those in recovery can vicariously affect their supports, those suffering from compassion fatigue and experiencing the increased feelings of detachment, frustration, anger, or stress can also permeate through one’s actions, compromising the effectiveness of one’s care. 

Strategies for Avoiding Compassion Fatigue

There can be many ways to address compassion fatigue. Employing personalized strategies upon realizing some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue is essential. However, there can be even more benefit from preemptively using these techniques so that compassion fatigue will have less of a chance to occur in the first place. Some strategies that can be used are:

  • Scheduling in Self-Care: Self-care isn’t selfish, and taking time to engage in whatever pastimes make a person happy is a crucial part of managing stress and going about daily routines in a healthy way. However, supporting loved ones through their recovery can feel like a full-time job on its own, and it can be difficult to just happen upon some downtime to engage in self-care. Time for self-care needs to be acknowledged and prioritized for one’s well-being and being a good support, and scheduling in time for oneself daily is crucial. Setting these times aside and communicating them can help each person adhere to their own best practices. For instance, establishing that a person simply wants to read a book in quiet from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
  • Have Hobbies Outside of Support: Becoming a cornerstone of someone’s support system is a lot of responsibility, but it is not an individual’s entire identity. Taking on a support role doesn’t mean that one’s hobbies or previous responsibilities necessarily become forfeit. Art classes, weekly book clubs, band practice, hiking, or jogging routines are not only still encouraged through this time, but they may also be more important than ever and cannot be sacrificed. 
  • Remember That You Aren’t a Professional: Setting boundaries is important for all people, regardless of one’s situation. Creating these boundaries may seem counterintuitive to the idea of providing support, but having concrete ideas of one’s boundaries in play can help mitigate the onset of compassion fatigue. Recovery from addiction, mental health disorders, trauma, or any combination thereof is exhausting and difficult. It is unfair for a support to take on the role of the primary caretaker, professional outlet, social communities, and continue to aid in coping skill development all while managing their well-being, occupation, or other regular responsibilities. One’s role as a support isn’t intended to replace any professionals, and directing loved ones to more appropriate avenues for a certain situation is its own form of support. 

Compassion fatigue is a difficult and common part of being an effective support for loved ones struggling. Helping others through addiction, trauma, and mental health recovery is a significant endeavor. Everlast Recovery is here to help provide the necessary professional support and caring recovery community often needed throughout the recovery journey. We offer various programs and therapeutic approaches, helping each person personalize their treatment and discover their own best practices. From detox to residential treatment, our programs can be personalized to fit your needs and goals, all while providing a safe and home-like atmosphere. Home-cooked meals and curated schedules of various experiential opportunities make up core parts of our program. If you or a loved one are ready to take the first step in your recovery journey, Everlast Recovery can help you today. For more information on how we can personalize your time with us or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your unique situation, call us today at (866) 338-6925.

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