How to Recognize Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Symptoms in Caregivers
Although providing care can be emotionally and financially rewarding, it can be tremendously difficult to prioritize taking care of yourself at home when you’re constantly focused on another person at work. That is why it’s so important to watch for signs of caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue. Direct Care Innovations has the tools your agency needs to take better care of your caregivers and deal with these issues before they spiral out of control.
Burnout is defined as “exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress.” Closely related is compassion fatigue or the “emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.
Both burnout and compassion fatigue contribute to caregiver turnover in the healthcare industry. As one might imagine, these issues affect not only caregivers but also the individuals who rely on their professional assistance, as well as the financial and ethical integrity of a healthcare organization.
For this reason, recognizing warning signs of burnout and compassion fatigue is a top priority for any facility or institution. Only through awareness can these serious issues be resolved and avoided.
Stages and Signs of Caregiver Burnout
One thing that distinguishes burnout from compassion fatigue is that its onset is never rapid nor sudden. Instead, it develops over time due to the cumulative effects of stress and exhaustion. We can see this onset occurs through a series of phases known in the research as “stages of burnout.”
These stages include:
We see burnout often in caregivers who have little to no privacy, little to no autonomy, and externally-imposed demands and pressure. It’s not related to the experience of trauma nor caring for someone who has had traumatic experiences, but rather the repeated toll of a demanding job role.
What Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Have in Common
We know burnout and compassion fatigue are distinct and may require different approaches to treatment. But they share several similarities, including:
- Emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion
- A decreased sense of personal accomplishment or meaningfulness at work
- Social isolation (decreased interactions with others)
- Depersonalization (according to Mayo Clinic, the “persistent feeling of observing oneself from outside one’s body or having a sense that one’s surroundings aren’t real”)
Additional Signs of Compassion Fatigue in Caregivers
Unlike burnout, compassion fatigue can in some cases develop suddenly (although it may also have a cumulative onset, too). It’s sometimes called “secondary traumatic stress” and is associated with caring for someone who is experiencing significant emotional or physical distress.
Signs and symptoms more specific to compassion fatigue include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Impairments in cognition, behavior, and judgment
- Decreased ability to empathize with others
- Intensified mood and emotions
- Loss of self-worth and morale
- Symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anger and irritability
- Substance abuse
- Increased conflict in other relationships outside of work
- A sense of hopelessness
- Spiritual distress
- Gastrointestinal upset and other somatic issues, especially if unexplained by physical conditions
Unlike burnout, compassion fatigue is unlikely to improve with a change of job roles or scenery. It may require a more intensive and holistic approach.
Avoiding Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue: A Checklist
Caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue can have ripple effects that negatively impact your entire organization, including the individuals and their loved ones who depend on your organization for support. Providing early and effective interventions to address these conditions is paramount. Here are a few ideas:
- Consult with mental health professionals
- Establish cultural expectations and norms within your organization that can avoid caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue (e.g., promoting work-life balance, vacations, incentivizing exercise, etc.)
- Utilize technology that decreases administrative and caregiver burden (e.g., caregiver training resources, streamlined billing services, etc.)
Discover Innovative Solutions to Support Your Caregivers
Direct Care Innovations (DCI) is a healthcare technology company that creates business management platforms for providers and government agencies in the Medicaid, Medicare, Private Insurance, and Managed Care Markets.
Caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue affect more than just the person experiencing it. If you’re interested in learning more about how DCI can help your company support your team through our business management platforms, contact us at (480) 295-3307 for a free demo or to speak with one of our knowledgeable team members today.