For people caring for someone with Huntington’s disease both Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue are real. However, burnout can happen to anyone experiencing stress. Compassion fatigue is more complex and develops in situations requiring intense, extended empathic care for people experiencing pain or suffering – such as caring for someone with HD. When someone experiences a combination of factors such as stress, extended exposure to suffering, traumatic memories, sense of responsibility for the care of someone who is suffering, depression and anxiety, then compassion fatigue can result. Fortunately, there are known treatments to help restore energy and well-being.
Compassion fatigue has both physical and emotional symptoms. Physical symptoms can include: headaches, upset stomach, muscle tension, fatigue and sleep disturbances, and chest pain/pressure. Emotional symptoms include: sadness, grief, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, restlessness, depression, anger, resentment, memory trouble, poor concentration, decreased intimacy.
Care partners have reported feeling like caring has taken over their lives and they do nothing outside of caring for others. Some find that they worry constantly and struggle to have relationships with friends.
The Effects of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue has the potential to wreak havoc on families, individuals, careers, relationships and impair the ability to care for someone with HD. Care partners have also seen their own health deteriorate due to self-neglect.
Preventing and Treating Compassion Fatigue
The most important thing to do to prevent compassion fatigue or to start to heal from it is developing self-care strategies and healthy rituals. A healthy ritual is something you do on a regular basis to replenish your energy levels and make yourself feel good. Self-care involves getting enough rest, eating regular balanced meals, drinking plenty of fluids such as water, and enjoying regular exercise.
Self-care strategies and healthy rituals are personal in nature. What works well for me, might not work for you at all.
Addressing compassion fatigue frequently involves working with a professional therapist. You can talk to HD Reach about our Therapy Path or find a counselor you know and trust.