As a parent or caregiver of a child or young person with additional needs, you may find yourself struggling. Every day you are striving to raise your children, identify and mitigate their needs, run your home, hold down a job, hold down a relationship, meet the needs of the other members of the family and community, and occasionally wash your hair!
All the time being constrained by an education system that isn’t set up to meet the needs of many of our children, trying to pry resources from an under-funded and under-resourced care system, and filling in what feels like 738 forms, in triplicate.
It’s no wonder we are overwhelmed, exhausted and running out of patience with the people we love the most. And, most likely, blaming ourselves for being rubbish parents, partners, and friends.
If you’ve ever found yourself completely losing it with your small person because you’ve had to tell them for the 32nd time in 20 minutes to put their socks on, it could be that the problem is compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is a recognised health issue for professional caregivers, such as nurses, that is now being more acknowledged amongst lay caregivers too.
Symptoms can include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or burdened by the challenges of caring for your child
- Blaming yourself or them for their challenges
- Isolating yourself from activities and people that normally you would enjoy
- Physical and mental fatigue
- Bottling up your emotions
- Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless
- Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or using them to excess.
- Poor self-care, including not eating healthily, not resting, not exercising
- Denial that there is a problem
What happens if I carry on as I am without getting help?
Compassion fatigue can lead to blocked care. Blocked care is a term to describe the point where you find yourself so stressed that your capacity to show love and empathy for your child is significantly supressed. It results in you feeling judgemental towards the child and towards yourself. Which isn’t a place that any of us want to be.
How do I know if I have compassion fatigue?
That’s a great question!
As with all such concerns, half the solution is recognising the problem. Here at PASH we are not health professionals and if you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, we strongly recommend you go and make a doctor’s appointment before you do anything else. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of your strength and the love you have for your family.
Once you’ve done that, download this following questionnaire and fill it in. We did and found it to be enlightening and the first step to recovery.
The first thing to remember is that self-care is not selfish. Taking care of yourself is an absolute priority to give you the emotional and physical wherewithal to meet the needs of your everyday life, every day.
It’s the best gift you can give to yourself and to your family. And it’s the first step out of compassion fatigue.
Below are our top ideas for ways to look after yourself. Pick and choose to see what works for you or, try something new. Don’t forget that you’re doing this for your health and wellbeing, and so that you can be the best caregiver for your family.
Meet a friend or attend a Listening Circle
As the saying goes “a problem shared is a problem halved”, but also, sometimes just talking through what’s going on can give you a fresh perspective, and renewed empathy.
Good nutrition and hydration are not only necessary to fuel your body, but it also fuels your brain, giving you the mental and physical energy and focus to deal with daily challenges.
It also helps to ward off ill health, because none of us can afford to be sick!
Check out your local library for cookbooks to inspire you.
Have a roster of 7 – 14 quick, nutritious meals you can cook with your eyes closed and make sure you always have the ingredients in the fridge.
Online shopping is your best friend.
Joe Wicks does great 15 minutes recipes that can be on the table faster than ordering take out.
Without enough sleep we make poor choices, function below par in all areas, have raised stress levels and gain weight.
Mindfulness or meditation
Mindfulness and/or meditation have shown to impact on all the areas we are struggling with as caregivers to children with extra needs. They improve our response to stress and anxiety, improve our mood and therefore our coping strategies, and help us sleep better and make better choices regarding nutrition.
It is, pun intended, a no-brainer!
Massage gives you all the benefits of the mindfulness and meditation, plus the added benefit of an hour away for yourself (a little longer if you go for a coffee with a friend whilst you’re at it! Bonus self-care points if you do!)
Okay…we know…exercise!!!!! But you know it’s good for you.
Plus, it’s a break from the family and a bit of time just for you…so it’s a win all around.
So…how about a dance class with your bestie or other half.
Or a bike ride with (or without) the kids.
A quiet walk with the dog (or without…how about taking your camera or a sketchpad. Or a book and stretching things out for a bit longer).
You could join a local netball or hockey team, or take up fencing, or martial arts.
The options are endless, and you don’t have to step inside a gym.
Unless, of course, that’s what you really enjoy doing. Then go for it!
Havening is a new therapy, based in neuroscience, which is designed to treat people who have experienced trauma.
A development of the word “haven” it is designed to bring you back to an emotional safe place.
Based on Eastern medicine going back over 5000 years, tapping, or Emotional Freedom Technique, can address a host of emotional and physical problems.
It works in much the same way as acupuncture, but without the needles.
Flotation tanks first made an appearance in the 1950’s and were used by NASA to help them prepare astronauts for space flight.
In Sweden floating is prescribed on the health service!
Ensconced in an enclosed pod of warm, Epsom salted water, floating can help with both emotional and physical problems.
And it’s jolly relaxing to boot!