Tag: exhaustion

STRESS * BURN OUT * COMPASSION FATIGUE * ADRENAL FATIGUE *

STRESS * BURN OUT * COMPASSION FATIGUE * ADRENAL FATIGUE *

Adrenal fatigue is a term that is growing in popularity as researchers learn more about the mind/body connection. Adrenal fatigue is used to describe a collection of non-specific symptoms that occur as a result of ongoing, high levels of stress.

Living in a chronic state of stress, without allowing for sufficient periods of recovery, precipitates a cascade of events depleting the body’s resources. We used to call it “burn out”, but as practitioners tease out more connections and relate them to causes, the conversation is expanding.  What’s important to know is how it connects to you and your life, and what you can do to improve your quality of life.

First, let’s talk about what is taking place in your body when it is under stress.

THE EFFECTS OF STRESS

Have you ever felt exhausted for a day or more after a stressful event?  During the event, energy was plentiful.  You danced at your son’s wedding or handled a crisis with ease and grace. That night, sleep came easily.  The next morning, however, you awoke tired and foggy headed.  Days later your body still felt limp with fatigue and your mind sluggish. You had that “I can’t get out of this chair” feeling in spades.

What you likely experienced was an adrenaline hangover. In stressful situations, good or bad, our body goes on high alert. Adrenaline gives us that boost of energy we need to take care of business. Once the event is over, however, our body takes time to return to its normal state of equilibrium.

Chronic stress has become a way of life for men and women of the 21st century. This is especially true during the midlife years when daily demands intensify. Everything hits at once.  Not only are we coping with a decade or more of the physical and emotional demands of menopause, we are navigating other pivotal life-changes.  For example, our parents are aging and becoming increasingly dependent on us for support. Our children are either temperamental teens navigating their own major life choices, or venturing out into the world for the first time.  We are mid-career, mid-marriages, post divorce and beginning to wonder about retirement. No wonder our body says, “Hey! Wait a minute!”

Chronic stress can do serious damage, not only to our enjoyment of life, but to our long-term health.  The longer we live, the more likely we are to have experience prolonged periods of unabated stress. This can and does eventually lead to adrenal burnout for many. Caregivers are particularly vulnerable to this condition, as day after day, week after week, month after month, they put the needs of their loved ones above their own. Those with chronic illnesses or unhealthy lifestyles are also more susceptible to this condition.

UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS

Our adrenal glands produce hormones that mobilize our body to deal quickly and aggressively with unexpected danger. In today’s world, the dangers we encounter are emotional and psychological, as well as physical.  We may no longer need to run away from wild animals, but we sure might want to run away from our job or home life. Job stress, family dynamics, a poor diet or lack of sleep and exercise take their toll on our adrenal system.

The fact that we no longer fight or flee in the physical sense, actually leaves our body without a means of dissipating the chemicals released into them during a stress response.  We rarely get into a fist fight with our neighbor when she makes us angry, or sprint ten miles down the road to get away from her.  (This is a good argument for running for exercise!)

To complicate matters, stress has become a chronic way of life for our entire culture.  Even as our adrenal glands are working overtime trying to keep up, we are telling ourselves that we are lazy or emotionally weak.  When we’re young we carry on, ignoring our body’s objections. Then one day, often midlife, we realize we have a serious problem.  Our adrenal glands are in a state of fatigue. We are now experiencing “burn out”, not only a psychological phenomenon, but a physical one. Bouncing back becomes increasingly difficult and we become less and less resilient.

FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO ADRENAL BURNOUT

Many factors contribute to, and exacerbate adrenal burnout.  A poor diet, lack of sufficient sleep for extended periods of time, a history of substance abuse, repeated infections, chronic medical conditions, emotional problems, such as depression or anxiety, financial difficulties, a stressful work environment, are all likely culprits.

Reversing this situation is almost always possible, and the sooner the recovery process is begun the sooner we will be back on our feet. Recovery takes not only significant life style changes, but time. We must remember that it has taken us years to get into this situation. It may take months, if not years, for us to repair the damage. The good news is, however, that we will begin to feel better and better as time goes on, even as we must still remain vigilant as we do.

SIGNS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE

 

STEPS TO RECOVERY

ADRENAL RECOVERY SOUP

 

What is the Answer to Compassion Fatigue?

What is the Answer to Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue, a type of burnout, is a common problem among caregivers of all types ~ nurses, doctors, social workers, etc. It has become a more noticeable problem within the boomer generation as more and more individuals are taking on the care of an aging parent while being caught in the “sandwich generation”. They are still caring for their children when their parents begin to turn to them for assistance.

Compassion fatigue is the result of constant exposure to pain and suffering and the caregiver “feels” the pain of the person they are helping. Most caregivers are compassionate people by nature. This makes them excellent at their jobs but also prime candidates for compassion fatigue.

A person who is empathetic by nature, finds it difficult to turn off compassion when someone turns to them for help and support. I am one of those people and have suffered way too much because of it. I’m still recovering from a five-year period in which I was called upon to care for an aging parent, an ill husband, a friend going through a difficult divorce, a niece whose husband left her, a son whose heart was broken and dropped out of college, not to mention a new puppy, two cats and a garden! It’s not funny. Trust me, I know.

When everyone seems to want and need our understanding and support all at once, what are we to do? Who should I have turned away? At the time, it never occurred to me not to help, support and love these important people in my life.  I just gave… and gave… and gave until…you’ve got it…I developed compassion fatigue! It did not hit all at once. My ability to cope, to think, and to sleep began to diminish, day by day, week by week. I had the frequent feeling “I can’t do this anymore, I need a vacation, something has to stop.” I began to have minor health problems and high blood pressure. I kept attributing it to stress, but that didn’t seem to exactly fit. I kept waiting for the problems to be resolved, for the people I was helping to get better. Some did, but I was still in a predominantly care giving role.

My life was out of balance and ultimately, I just stopped…everything. I stopped taking calls, stopped trying to help, stopped trying to fix everyone, stopped working (fortunately I’m self-employed), stopped moving.  I shut down. I was numb, in a fog, depressed, perpetually tired and really not sure what the heck was going on. I stared into space for weeks. I knew I had a problem but wasn’t sure what it was. I wondered why I couldn’t cope and why I couldn’t make myself feel better.

This is compassion fatigue. My first self-diagnosis was burnout – and compassion fatigue is a kind of burnout so I wasn’t completely off the mark. Defining it as compassion fatigue is more likely to bring about a cure because then the real problem can be addressed. Burn out is often too much doing and going and working, etc. Compassion fatigue is burnout of a particular set of emotions ~ those used in caring for others ~ compassion, empathy, caring.

A total collapse can be avoided, but it takes self-awareness at a time when it is difficult to think about ourselves. For those of us who are empathetic and compassionate to a fault, it is necessary to learn how to find caring balance where we care enough to be helpful but not so much as to destroy ourselves. We are often those very people who don’t know how to be compassionate to ourselves or care adequately for ourselves and that is where we must begin.

This is the first in a series of blogs on how to avoid and recover from compassion fatigue. Stay tuned.