Respite relief from compassion fatigue

Calm and centered caregiver series     

Family caregivers, do you need a break? Your dedication to your loved one is amazing, and caregiving is rewarding. But perhaps you are feeling restless, irritable, oversensitive, anxious, angry, or resentful. Or are you experiencing headaches, digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, sleep disturbances, or even cardiac symptoms like chest pain/pressure, palpitations, or tachycardia? Is fatigue, forgetfulness, poor concentration, focus, or judgment interfering in your ability to care for yourself or your loved one? Have you lost track of who you are, because you focus on the loved one in your care 24/7? These are the characteristics of compassion fatigue, as gathered by Lombardo & Eyre  in their review of literature pertinent to compassion fatigue. If this sounds like you, don’t despair – you can be a calm and centered caregiver.

For family caregivers responsible for loved ones with physical, emotional, or cognitive limitations, taking regular breaks is absolutely necessary and is officially called ‘respite.’ Respite means setting up alternative care or substitutes to take your place while you get some much needed time away, for an hour, a day, or more.

Respite challenge #1

Create some time for your self by setting up alternative care for your loved one. Respite care is the official term for have a substitute care for your loved one when you are ‘off duty.’ Not only do you need to find someone willing and available, you also need to reflect and possibly change your attitudes and beliefs. Perhaps no one can better care for your loved one than you, but there is likely someone that can do a pretty good job.

Regular opportunities for caregiver respite might be provided by a family member or friend stepping up to cover for you periodically. Respite might require having professional services like home care companions or aides, day programs, senior center programs, or long term care services. Finding, applying, and scheduling such services can be a part time job, so get help with this process from a trusted friend, family member, case manager, or geriatric care manager.

Learn more about finding respite care in “Substitute caregivers: respite when family caregivers need a break.”pexels-photo-339620.jpeg

Respite Challenge #2

When they do get some time off, unfortunately caregivers feel they must use the time for work, grocery shopping, or something necessary but not restorative. During the last year or so of caring for my dad, we paid for 3 hours/week of respite. Some people are eligible for funded home care; we had to pay out of pocket and found companions hired through agencies to be the most appropriate and affordable. Usually I’d bring my laptop and work at the library.  One memorable week I was just too tired. I told Dad’s Companion Aide that I was going to take a nap. She excited, I was taken aback. She hugged me and sent me off to my room, admonishing me not to come out, assuring me she’d come get me in an emergency. Her supervisor later called me to say that I finally understood the purpose of respite, and how happy she was that I had rested a bit.

Respite challenge #3

As a caregiver, you may have given up thinking or doing what you enjoy because you are immersed in what is best for your loved one. What to do with yourself if you have an hour, an afternoon, or even a day for yourself every week is often baffling.

Start by discovering your high-priority needs. Schedule healthcare or mental health appointments for yourself, especially if you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned characteristics of compassion fatigue. Catch up on your preventative health appointments. Get a massage, enjoy exercising, or get some much-needed rest.


If your high priority needs have been met, enjoy taking a nap, going for a walk, visiting with a friend, or sitting alone in your home without anyone to supervise. You benefit from being able to lower your vigilance and perhaps spending time doing something relaxing or calming. Learn more in “Mini me-time for family caregivers.”

Respite challenge #4

If your loved one is in residential long term care or rehabilitation care, you still need rest and respite. Consider changing your visiting schedule from time to time. Take the morning off for a doctor’s appointment and visit later in the day. Can’t sleep? Visit late at night and take the next day off.  Long term care facilities should welcome immediate family at any time, as long as you are respectful of the other residents. Visiting unexpectedly provides the added benefit of evaluating what kind of care your loved one receives when staff do not anticipate your visit.

Respite may not be easy but you are worth it

pexels-photo-774866.jpegPerhaps you’ve heard the wise advice from flight attendants: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself, first, before helping others.” Find a way to take some time off for respite. Self-care is the only way to continually have the physical, emotional, and spiritual resilience to be a calm and centered caregiver.

Readers, I’d love to hear your respite stories and your challenges. Other readers will benefit from your experiences and wisdom. Please share/comment about how you overcame the challenges to taking time-off from family caregiving.

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