About ten years ago I heard the term ”caregiver fatigue” for the first time. I was experiencing stress, insomnia, restlessness, and general dissatisfaction with life the way I was living it. I called a counselor friend and made an appointment to see him. He wanted to see me as a friend with no charge but I insisted on being “on the books.”
I shared the feelings listed above, but these feelings were accompanied by a desire to move to another place and start again. I had questions about my place in the universe and what difference would it all mean after I died? I overreacted to minor nuisances and felt tired and rundown. I was anxious and slightly depressed. My life revolved around ministry to people in hospital and nursing homes. Death and dying were always there. How could I help people have hope when I was beginning to lag in hope?
I had the feeling of giving and giving until you have no more to give. You wonder if people like/love you because you do things for them or because they like/love you as the person you are? Would they like/love me for who I am if I did nothing for them except be a friend?
I shared the feelings I was having and my counselor friend said I had “caregiver fatigue.” Anyone who is any kind of a caregiver can experience caregiver fatigue. This includes ministers, fire fighters, police, those in medical fields, or anyone who is in a caregiving role.
What I am calling caregiver fatigue is often referred to as compassion fatigue and is defined for nurses as a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress. It is also related to burnout.
In professional literature compassion fatigue is usually related to personal trauma experienced in connection with vocation. Burnout is defined as a cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress and is NOT trauma-related. Regardless of the term, the effects on the person are the same and are very debilitating.
If you have more than one of the following symptoms you could have the beginnings of caregiver fatigue:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Reduced sense of personal accomplishment or meaning in work
- Mental exhaustion
- Decreased interactions with others (isolation)
- Depersonalization (symptoms disconnected from real causes)
- Physical exhaustion
- Little or no leisure time.
I am in early stages of caregiver fatigue again. How will I deal with it? I am considering my workload and work schedule. Do I really need to see everyone who wants to be seen or everyone who is ill? Can I delegate more to others who are looking for ways to be useful?
I am trying to have more leisure time and spend time with friends and family. I must learn the favorite word of every two-year-old: “no.” I must devote more time to “me” and my needs. I must learn to relax, to have fun, and enjoy life. I must strengthen my devotional life. I must change some of my behavior patterns, like going to a professional baseball or football game on Sunday afternoon instead of napping or studying. I have started making friends with children.
In Scripture we see Jesus on numerous occasions leaving the multitudes and going alone to a quiet place for prayer and renewal. He knew the value of replenishing his inner resources and you and I must follow the example of Jesus. We simply need to act upon what we know to be in our best interests
Yes, there are those who will be critical if a minister seems to be giving less than 150%of effort. I was reared in that culture and it has taken a lifetime of experience for me to learn that God does not want us to burn out or to have caregiver fatigue. He wants us to relax and enjoy the few years we have on earth.