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Taking A Toll 

Parental Compassion Fatigue: Coping with kids and COVID

Parenting through over a year of COVID shutdowns, quarantines and ever-changing restrictions was challenging for most parents. It meant extended stretches of time in intense parenting mode broken only by switching into teacher mode and sometimes counselor mode to help soothe children's fears and anxieties.

Even with school back in session, parents have a heavy load helping their young students readjust to in-person classes amidst the added fear of the COVID Delta variant. Caring for their young isn't the only challenge Central Oregon parents are facing. Many are grappling with their own mental health.

  • Ksenia Chernaya/Pexels

What is Parental Compassion Fatigue?

According to a study published in Front Psychiatry, common stressors that impacted parenting during COVID-19 shutdowns were changes in children's routines, worry about the virus and online schooling demands. Unfortunately, this study also concluded that while parent stress increased substantially during COVID-19 shutdowns, it has not returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, which has some struggling with a condition called parental compassion fatigue.

Two identifiers that set parental compassion fatigue apart from other anxiety disorders and depression are that parents report feeling both emotionally exhausted themselves and detached from their children's emotions. There can even be a feeling of apathy toward their children's feelings.

Signs & Symptoms

Joella Long, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Cascadia Family Therapy in Bend, says, "Deeper contributing factors to parental compassion fatigue are when parents have a job or other family member that requires caregiving. For instance," she explains, "if you are caring for an aging parent or work as a nurse or teacher during the day, it can be hard to find more compassion to offer at home."

Long also says that the lack of basic self-care, like regularly missing sleep, meals and showering, as well as forgoing one's hobbies for the sake of caregiving, are other contributing factors.

Some additional common signs and symptoms of parental compassion fatigue that Long says parents should be aware of include:

• Irritability

• Feeling helpless or hopeless

• Withdrawing from other relationships

• Numbness or avoiding

Risks Associated with Parental Compassion Fatigue

With the end of pandemic-related stressors nowhere in sight, recovering from a case of parental compassion fatigue brought on by COVID seems like a far-off dream. When left untreated, the condition may intensify. According to Long, the risks of letting parental compassion fatigue go unchecked are worsening symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and a general lack of self-care that leads to a sense of powerlessness and overwhelm.

Addressing Parental Compassion Fatigue

While COVID-related stressors may go on for an extended and indefinite period, there are concrete actions parents can take if they believe they are suffering from parental compassion fatigue. First, asking for help and seeking a diagnosis from a trained professional is important. Having someone who can offer the tools needed to both recover and continue supporting other family members through whatever may come is key to maintaining the mental health and compassion required to care for children.

Long says, "If you or a parent you know seems to be suffering from compassion fatigue, psychotherapy, counseling, connecting with other parents, nights off from the kids and other self-care practices can be healing." She explains that, "The key is to link self-care with your ability to be compassionate. Compassion for yourself in the form of care, understanding and empathy for your own emotional experience gives you the ability to find compassion for others."

While seeing a counselor and implementing self-care practices will get you well along the road to recovery and refilling your compassion and empathy tank, don't expect to feel better right away. Long says, "Remember that self-care heals slowly over time so don't expect overnight change. Instead, find ways to support yourself and other parents in continued self-care practices."

Tips for Avoiding and Recovering from Compassion Fatigue

The following are some things that you can do to both avoid and recover from compassion fatigue:

1. Focus on sleep: Make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep a night. Rest is important, even if you don't sleep well.

2. Nutrition: Look into your eating habits. Make sure your meals are packed with plenty of nutritious proteins, veggies and fruits.

3. Take Five!: It doesn't sound like a lot but find time throughout the day to take five minutes to yourself.

4. Relaxation: Find a relaxation method, like deep breathing exercises or meditation, that you can use throughout your day.

5. Get a Massage: Self care is where it's at. Once a week or once a month. Invest in yourself.

6. One hour a day: Find someone to watch the kids for one hour a day. Then use that time just for you.

7. Move: Find a physical activity that brings you joy. Think: dancing, swimming, hiking.

8. Soak: Fill a bath with mineral salts and soak away the stress.

9. Go out: Make a date with a friend or romantic partner and go out regularly.

10. Dine in: Forget cooking. Grub Hub it or have your dinner delivered and relax.

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