Respite care, give yourself a break
The important thing is to recognise what you are feeling and experiencing, and then to do something about it.

A very important aspect whilst caring for a loved one is to look after yourself too. We have heard many “buzz words” like compassion fatigue, caregivers’ burnout, and languishing. What do all these terms mean and how does it slot in with caring?

Compassion fatigue refers to exhaustion emotionally and physically due to rendering care, be it to a loved one or as a health professional caring for patients. A profound loss of empathy is found. This is often more pronounced in people who are very empathetic in nature. In some cases, it is referred to as “the cost of caring”. This can happen suddenly.

Caregivers’ burnout is not the same as compassion fatigue although these terms are often used interchangeably. Caregivers’ burnout refers to emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion and happens over time. Symptoms of anxiety, feeling impatient, isolating yourself emotionally and physically are typical signs of burnout. Most caregivers will simply describe themselves as depressed when in fact, they are suffering from burnout. The difference here is that, if you give yourself a decent break from caring/looking after someone, your symptoms are alleviated. It is not the case with people suffering from depression, the change in a situation does not improve their symptoms and medication and therapy is indicated.

Languishing is the feeling between being depressed and flourishing. You don’t feel depressed (a sense of hopelessness), you are not burnt-out (total lack of energy) or have compassion fatigue (without any empathy) but you are not fired up. The typical feeling is referred to as “meh” …

The important thing is to recognise what you are feeling and experiencing, and then to do something about it.

For someone suffering from compassion fatigue, it will be important to set boundaries, as you are typically an empathetic person, you need to realise that you cannot fix the whole world’s problems. This comes with mental gymnastics; you need to keep your work at work (if you are a healthcare professional) and don’t become too involved. If you have burnout, you will have to take a break from your situation for a considerable period or have a plan for definite regular breakaways. That is where respite care plays a role. You can either ask a friend or family member to assist or an agency that can provide a carer to stand in for you. Some medical schemes will even have a benefit for respite care.

For those languishing, the very first step is to identify this feeling/emotion in yourself and realise that you are not alone. The pandemic has unfortunately left many of us in this state. It is therefore important to get busy, have a mission and purpose. Start the day with something positive, be it a crossword puzzle, an exercise session, take some time away from your responsibilities, importantly, without interruptions! It is said that those who got involved in projects during the pandemic, were less likely to suffer from languishing.

In short, we all need a break. Caring for someone is emotionally draining, even if you love that person endlessly. Don’t feel guilty, by looking after yourself, you will – in the end – be a better caregiver.

Dr. Janet Strauss is a Medical Doctor and the Chief Operations Officer at Medwell SA – The Home Healthcare Specialists. For more information about respite care, send your enquiry to or visit our website.

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