How to Cope with Fatigue as the Partner to a Trauma Survivor

“How do you cope with fatigue as the partner to a trauma survivor?” a friend recently asked.

To be honest, the question frightened me. Was I fatigued? Was it a problem? Was I coping? Was I okay?

I spun around on these thoughts for a few days. Yes, I was fatigued. Yes, it was and is a problem. Yet, somehow I keep going. How do I do it? How do I and other partners of trauma survivors cope?

Partners and Fatigue

The situation faced by partners is not unlike other families where one member has a chronic condition. Like others who are caregivers, fatigue is a big issue for partners and families. It touches everything: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and relational.

Unfortunately, as I’ve written in other blog posts, it’s challenging to find support resources for partners and for children. This unaddressed issue is alarming because chronic fatigue leads to burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma.

In this post, let’s take a look at fatigue and partners. I’ll share suggestions as to what’s worked for me and what might help you if you are a partner.

What is fatigue?

Oxford Dictionary defines fatigue as :

  • Extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.
  • A lessening in one’s response to or enthusiasm for something, caused by overexposure.

Charles Figley, Ph.D. in the book Burnout in Families writes about related definitions.

Burnout: Physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations (Pines & Aronson, 1988).

Compassion Fatigue: A state of burnout/exhaustion as a result of prolonged exposure to conditions of another’s suffering.

Don’t worry about keeping the definitions straight. The main point is that all have the commonality of extreme tiredness and a lessening of one’s normal state of being as a result of living with chronic stress.

What does fatigue look like if you are the partner to a trauma survivor?

Fatigue shows up as symptoms, some physical and some emotional, psychological or relational.

Symptoms indicating extreme fatigue may be:

  • Physical pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Decreased empathy
  • Disengagement from once-pleasurable activities
  • Foggy or clouded thinking
  • Never feeling rested
  • Feeling like you can never catch up or get ahead
  • Anger and rage
  • Increased physical illness
  • Mood swings
  • Hopelessness

*Remember, this list is based on my experience. Always check with your medical practitioner with questions and concerns.

But let’s not stop here. My friend asked me how I cope with fatigue and I want to give you an answer. Here it is.

8 Ways I Cope with Fatigue

1. Build up inner resources

Intentionally looking for opportunities throughout my day to bring my attention to life-giving, healthy, and calming experiences helps me feel better emotionally, mentally, and physically. What I like about this one is that I don’t need to rely on external circumstances to do it.

2. Choose supportive relationships

I realize it can be a challenge to find others who understand the experience of being a partner. Finding small moments of stability from colleagues, friends, neighbors, or supportive family members can make a difference.

Regular assessment of commitments, activities, and even purchases can help minimize fatigue. I ask:

  • Do I need to do this today?
  • Is this urgent? Can it wait?
  • What is the most important thing?
  • Do I really need to buy this?

4. Be honest

It is better to speak up than bottle it up. Some things I say to myself, my spouse, my friends, and others who might be helpful:

  • I feel overwhelmed.
  • I need a break.
  • I am not coping.

It is fatiguing to keep real thoughts, needs, and desires tucked away.  Creating space to have real conversations with my partner or with another person about my needs is crucial.

5. Recognize and work at silencing the inner critic

The inner critic is the cruel voice that taunts: “You are not doing enough!” or “Why do you feel that way?” or a variety of dismissive and demeaning phrases. This bully takes advantage of fatigue by bombarding the mind during times of extreme fatigue and vulnerability. A couple of key ways I combat this voice:

  • Have a strong and understanding support system.
  • Keep a written and mental list of encouraging and inspiring statements people have made about me. I can refer to these statements and the positive feelings the words bring up when the critic gets going.

6. Trust intuition

I continue to learn to trust I know what I need to do. Questions to consider:

  • What do you find yourself thinking about?
  • What do you long to do?

Maybe it’s a hike, reading a novel, spending time with your kids…the list is endless. Don’t brush off these longings. They might be clues to what you really need.

7. Use social media in a positive way

Social media can be overwhelming and negative, but it can also be a source of connection and positivity. I have discovered groups, people, and uplifting resources online. Partners to Survivors is an example of the benefit of an online community. Learn more: Here’s What Happens in a Facebook Group for Partners of Survivors.

8. See a healthcare practitioner with concerns

I do keep on top of medical check-ups and other appointments because I live in a highly stressful environment. Alternative health care can also play a supportive role for partners and survivors. Being proactive and practicing prevention helps mitigate some of the symptoms of fatigue.

These are eight ways I cope with fatigue, but I would love to hear how you do it.  Let me know in the comments or send me a note through the contact form.

Photo source: Mike Kotsch on Unsplash