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GUEST COLUMN: Compassion Fatigue

By Beth Walrich in collaboration with Athena Sizemore

Dealing with any illness is difficult, not only on the patient, but on those who care for the patient. Compassion Fatigue is a state that is experienced by seasoned professional caregivers as well as family members who care for their loved ones. Those who suffer are in a constant state of extreme tension and are preoccupied with the suffering their patients are experiencing, thinking about the patient or loved one’s care even when they are not physically giving care. This constant state of stress takes its toll on those in caring professions, often causing the caregiver to display indifference, poor judgement, a desire to quit caregiving, irritability, anger, poor sleep patterns, as well as a host of physical ailments often manifesting as a severe lack of energy. Compassion Fatigue can lead to caregiver burnout.

There are many ways to combat Compassion Fatigue. Make time for some form of exercise daily. Maintain a personal life. Have a sense of humor. Set limits between home and work activities and broaden your network by spending time with likeminded people. The Keck Medical Center of University of Southern California has enacted the “Lavender Code,” developed by Cleveland Clinic in 2008, as a holistic approach aimed at helping to reduce caregiver stress and burnout. A Lavender Code is called in response to a difficult patient diagnosis or patient death. The caregiver is given a “healing” basket filled with calming tea, lotion, and other aromatherapy items, as well as emotional support. Aromatherapy has been used since the Middle Ages to promote health and wellbeing (1). Lavender in particular is known for its properties that promote calm, relaxation, and anxiety relief (2, 3).

To be a good caregiver requires great self-care. Compassion Fatigue is real. Learn to recognize the signs and take action.

Beth Walrich is owner and director of Griswold Home Care, which has been providing home care services to clients throughout Middle Tennessee for the last 35 years. For more information, call (615) 451-2273 or visit

• 1 Chandwani, KD, Ryan, JL, Peppone, LJ,  Janelsins, MM,  Sprod, LK, Devine, K, Trevino, L,  Gewandter, J,  Morrow, GR, and Mustian, KM. 2012. Cancer-Related Stress and Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Review. Hindawi Publishing Corporation, Article ID 979213, 15 pages. • 2 Sugawara Y, Hara C, Tamura K, Jujii T, Nakamura K, Masujima M, Aoki T. 1998. Sedative effect on humans of inhalation of essential oil of linalool: sensory evaluation and physiological measurements using optically active linalools. Anal Chim Acta 365: 293-299. • 3 Heuberger E, Hongratawanaworakit T, Bohm C, Weber R, Buchbauer G. 2001. Effects of chiral fragrances on human autonomic nervous system parameters and self-evaluation. Chem Senses 26:281-292.



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