How Caregivers Can Battle Empathy Fatigue and Regain Their Compassion

The guilt and confusion are overwhelming. You desperately want to feel compassion and empathy—and you know you do care, deeply, for your loved one. But sometimes, it feels like you’d need a backhoe to excavate that empathy and compassion from where it’s buried amidst the stress of caregiving. You aren’t alone. This scenario is common with caregivers—so common that it’s earned a dedicated clinical term: “empathy fatigue.”

What is empathy fatigue?

Empathy fatigue is the hopelessness and numbness you feel in the wake of repeated exposure to the stress and trauma of caregiving. It’s the inability – or, at minimum, the struggle – to care or show concern.

Research shows that the deep psychological response unique to family caregiving makes caregivers more susceptible to empathy fatigue than traditional health care workers. After all, health care workers don’t have the same deep emotional ties to your loved one as you do.

Symptoms of empathy fatigue

Empathy fatigue is a neurological defense mechanism. Witnessing your loved one suffer activates the empathy area of your brain, the same part of the brain activated when you feel physical pain.Over time, the stress of caregiving chronically activates this area of the brain.

Because the empathy area of the brain is intrinsically connected to the brain’s pain center, these ongoing feelings of empathy begin to smother your innate ability to cope.As a result, the empathy part of the brain becomes increasingly underactive in a protective effort to shield you from the damaging effects of chronic emotional stress.

When this happens, empathy fatigue occurs.You shut down.Empathy fatigue can manifest in both emotional and physical ways, which then negatively affect both social functioning and work performance.Emotional symptoms can include:

  • Social isolation and inability to relate to others
  • Feeling numb and exhibiting self-blame
  • Lack of energy, feeling overwhelmed, powerless or hopeless
  • Feeling angry, sad or depressed
  • Obsessive thoughts about the suffering of others

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Inability to concentrate, be productive or complete daily tasks
  • Headaches, nausea or upset stomach, changes in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts and constant exhaustion
  • Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol
  • Conflicts in your relationships and avoiding work or other activities

How compassion can protect you from empathy fatigue

Being a family caregiver doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop empathy fatigue. After all, humans are social creatures—we can’t just “turn off” our empathy.

So, what can we do when our empathy starts to become harmful? The answer is compassion.

  • Empathy = ability to take the perspective of another person + feel the emotions of another person.
  • Compassion = ability to take the perspective of another person + feel the emotions of another person + the desire to help.

But how can you instigate the “desire to help” once you have empathy fatigue and you don’t necessarily feel the desire to help?Recent research shows that activating the “compassion” brain region in tandem with the “empathy” brain region helps to prevent and ease empathy fatigue.

Why compassion matters

Compassion is the neurological antidote to the slow drip of poison stemming from the neurological stress of witnessing the suffering of your loved one, day in and day out. Remember, your brain cannot decipher empathy from physical pain. Empathy hurts, literally.The great news is that compassion is something you can develop at any point in life using a simple meditation called the loving-kindness meditation.

The loving-kindness meditation builds compassion The loving-kindness meditation (sometimes referred to as metta meditation) is a guided meditation where you wish yourself and others to be happy, content and at ease.Public health expert and preventive medicine physician Dr. Rashmi Bismark, MD, MPH, studies how complementary and alternative healing modalities promote health, primarily through improving risk factors and outcomes related to chronic diseases.

She explained that the guided imagery included in the loving-kindness meditation strengthens your capacity for self-love and self-compassion and heightens your compassion for others.

What to expect when you practice the loving-kindness meditation

The loving-kindness meditation is a guided meditation, making it particularly accessible to new and inexperienced medication practitioners alike; guided meditation allows the guide to do the heavy (mental) lifting of the meditation. You just sit and listen, releasing your imagination from the restraints of “adulting.”

To start, find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. After spending a few moments focusing on your breathing, your meditation guide will initiate the first phase of the meditation, which is for you to receive loving-kindness. (Remember, you need to build a protective compassion shield before you can safely feel empathy for others.)

During this initial phase, you will mentally repeat the following phrases:May I be happy.May I be well.May I be safe.May I be peaceful and at ease.In the next stage of the meditation, you direct love and compassion to a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you, slowly repeating phrases of loving-kindness toward them:May you be happy.May you be well.May you be safe.May you be peaceful and at ease.

The meditation continues to expand your circle of well-wishing, gradually extending these wishes to increasingly “unlikeable” others (from yourself to a friend to a complete stranger to someone difficult in your life and finally to all living beings).

Where to find a loving-kindness meditation

Loving-kindness meditations can likely be found in yoga in meditation studios in your local area. There is also a plethora of online resources offering excellent guided loving-kindness meditation practices.

By Erica Harrison for Seasons

Source: How Caregivers Can Battle ‘Empathy Fatigue’ and Regain Their Compassion – Yoga Medicine

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Related contents:

Compassion Fatique”. Professional Quality of Life Measure (ProQOL).

Compassion Fatigue: An Application of the Concept to Informal Caregivers of Family Members with Dementia”.Samson, Tali; Shvartzman, Pesach (2018-08-01).

Secondary Traumatization and Proneness to Dissociation Among Palliative Care Workers: A Cross-Sectional Study”.Turgoose, David; Glover, Naomi; Barker, Chris; Maddox, Lucy (2017).

Empathy, compassion fatigue, and burnout in police officers working with rape victims”. Traumatology. Cocker, Fiona; Joss, Nerida (2016-06-22).

Compassion Fatigue among Healthcare, Emergency and Community Service Workers: A Systematic Review”.

Traumatic Stress & The News Audience”. Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

Surveying Americans on Empathy Burnout”. United Way of the National Capital Area. Retrieved May 31, 2022.

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Diabetes Fast Facts

Here’s a look at diabetes, a disease that affects millions of people around the world. Diabetes is characterized by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. The disease can lead to serious complications such as blindness, kidney damage, cardiovascular disease, limb amputations and premature death.

Facts

People with diabetes or certain other underlying medical conditions are more likely to become severely ill if infected with Covid-19, according to the CDC. Worldwide, the number of people living with the potentially fatal disease has quadrupled since 1980, to around 422 million, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

37.3 million people in the United States have diabetes, about 11.3% of the population. 8.5 million (23%) of adults with diabetes are undiagnosed. Diabetes was the eighth leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, according to provisional data from the National Vital Statistics System.

There are several types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes. Prediabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Before developing Type 2 diabetes, people almost always have prediabetes. Research has shown that some long-term damage to the body may occur during prediabetes.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that make insulin. This form of diabetes usually strikes children and young adults. Only 5-10% of people with diabetes have Type 1. Risk factors for Type 1 diabetes may be autoimmune, genetic or environmental. There is no known way to prevent Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and in adults, it accounts for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. It is associated with older age, obesity, family history, physical inactivity and race/ethnicity.

It is more common in African Americans, Latino Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents, although still rare, is being diagnosed more frequently.

Gestational diabetes is a form of glucose intolerance diagnosed during pregnancy. It affects about 4% of all pregnant women. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes doesn’t mean that a woman had diabetes before she conceived, or that she will have diabetes after giving birth.

Other types of diabetes result from genetic conditions, surgery, medications, infections and other illnesses. Such types of diabetes account for 1% to 5% of all diagnosed cases.

Possible Symptoms

Frequent urination
Excessive thirst
Unexplained weight loss
Extreme hunger
Sudden changes in vision
Numbness in hands or feet
Tiredness
Dry skin
Slow healing wounds
Frequent infections

Complications

Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about two to four times higher than adults without diabetes. The risk for stroke is two to four times higher among people with diabetes. People with diabetes are at high risk for high blood pressure.

Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20-74 years. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure. Between 60% and 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage or neuropathy.

US Diabetes Statistics

1.4 million new cases are diagnosed every year in the United States.

In 2019, about 96 million people aged 18 or older had prediabetes.

About 286,000 people under 20 years old have diabetes.

$327 billion – Cost to treat diabetes in the US in 2017.

Timeline

1921 – Insulin is discovered by Drs. Frederick Banting and Charles Best.

November 16, 2012 – The CDC releases a report showing that 18 states had a 100% or more increase in the prevalence of diabetes from 1995 to 2010. Forty-two states saw an increase of at least 50%.

January 17, 2014 – For the first time, US surgeon general’s report on the health consequences of smoking includes data that indicates smoking can cause diabetes, as well as erectile dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration, ectopic pregnancies and impaired immune function. Smokers have a 30% to 40% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with nonsmokers.

May 4, 2015 – A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation detects a possible connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

September 28, 2016 – The Food and Drug Administration approves a so-called artificial pancreas. The first-of-its-kind device, the size of a cell phone, monitors and treats patients with type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes.

September 28, 2017 – The FDA approves the “first-ever continuous blood sugar monitoring device” that doesn’t require patients to prick their fingers for blood samples.

December 2, 2019 – An estimated 18% of adolescents ages 12 to 18 and 24% of young adults ages 19 to 34 in the United States have prediabetes, according to a JAMA Pediatrics study covering 2005-2016.

May 15, 2022 – In its biannual Diabetes Report Card, the CDC notes a decrease in newly diagnosed cases of diabetes after almost two decades of continual increases. In 2019, the number of newly diagnosed US adults decreased from a high of 9.3 per 1,000 in 2009 to 5.9 per 1,000 adults.

By:

Source: Diabetes Fast Facts – CNN

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Multiple Sclerosis Risk 29% Higher for People Living in Urban Areas, New Research Reveals

1

Air pollution could be a risk factor for the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study conducted in Italy has found.The research, presented today at the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Virtual Congress, detected a for MS in individuals residing in that have lower levels of air pollutants known as particulate matter (PM).

It showed that the MS risk, adjusted for urbanization and deprivation, was 29% higher among those residing in more urbanized areas.The study sample included over 900 MS patients within the region, and MS rates were found to have risen 10-fold in the past 50 years, from 16 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 1974 to almost 170 cases per 100,000 people today.

Whilst the huge increase can partly be explained by increased survival for MS patients, this sharp increase could also be explained by greater exposure to .The analysis was conducted in the winter, given that this is the season with the highest pollutant concentrations, in the north-western Italian region of Lombardy, home to over 547,000 people.

Commenting on the findings at the EAN Virtual Congress, lead researcher Professor Roberto Bergamaschi explained, “It is well recognized that immune diseases such as MS are associated with multiple factors, both genetic and environmental. Some environmental factors, such as vitamin D levels and smoking habits, have been extensively studied, yet few studies have focused on air pollutants. We believe that air pollution interacts through several mechanisms in the development of MS and the results of this study strengthen that hypothesis.”

Particulate matter (PM) is used to describe a mixture of solid particles and droplets in the air and is divided into two categories. PM10 includes particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers of smaller and PM2.5 which have a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller.Both PM10 and PM2.5 are major pollutants and are known to be linked to various health conditions, including heart and lung disease, cancer and respiratory issues.

According to the World Health Organization, 4.2 million deaths occur every year because of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution.Three different areas were compared within the study region based on their levels of urbanization, of which two areas were found to be above the European Commission threshold of . “In the higher risk areas, we are now carrying out specific analytical studies to examine multiple possibly related to the heterogeneous distribution of MS risk”, added Professor Bergamaschi.

The number of people living with MS around the world is growing, with more than 700,000 sufferers across Europe. The vast majority (85%) of patients present with relapsing remitting MS, characterized by unpredictable, self-limited episodes of the central nervous system. Whilst MS can be diagnosed at any age, it frequently occurs between the ages of 20-40 and is more frequent in women. Symptoms can change in severity daily and include fatigue, walking difficulty, numbness, pain and muscle spasms.

By European Academy of Neurology

Source: https://medicalxpress.com

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