Caregiver Burnout: How to Spot the Signs and Take Care of Yourself
If you’re responsible for the care of another person, sooner or later, you’re likely to be at risk of caregiver burnout. It’s the natural result of putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own for an extended period of time.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
When a caregiver comes to a place of total exhaustion physically, emotionally and mentally, they’re experiencing what is known as caregiver burnout. Left unchecked, it often leads to a change in attitude, making it possible for a caring and positive caregiver to become apathetic, depressed and less attentive to their own life as well as the person in their care.
What are the Causes of Caregiver Burnout?
It can be easy for caregivers to devote so much time and energy into supporting someone else that they neglect their own physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Caregiving responsibilities often make overwhelming demands on them, leading to fatigue, feelings of hopelessness and, ultimately, caregiver burnout.
Other factors that may lead to caregiver burnout:
- Caregivers may have unrealistic expectations that their efforts will have a positive impact on the happiness and health of the care recipient. For care recipients with progressive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, this scenario becomes less and less likely as the disease runs its course. For those that need regular help with daily tasks, it may be hard to accept that needing help is a new normal.
- For informal or family caregivers, before being thrust into the role of care provider they were the care recipient’s spouse, daughter or son, close friend or other family member. This blurring of the lines between roles can lead to role confusion, resulting in anxiety and stress.
- Lack of experience, money and resources to effectively plan, organize and manage the necessary care can lead to many caregiver stress symptoms.
- Primary care providers often make unreasonable demands on themselves, viewing the care recipient’s needs as their exclusive responsibility. Other family members may also make unreasonable demands on caregivers without realizing what’s already on their plate. Additionally, the care recipient may make unreasonable demands on the care provider without even realizing they are doing so.
What are the Signs of Caregiver Burnout?
Unfortunately, many care providers don’t realize they’re suffering from caregiver burnout. They are so focused on the needs of the care recipient that they keep pushing themselves to the point of being unable to function effectively and may even become sick themselves.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, watch out for these signs of caregiver burnout or stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Depression or sadness
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as getting too much sleep or not enough
- Changes in weight and/or appetite
- Often feeling tired
- Experiencing frequent bodily pain, headaches or other physical problems
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Neglecting or pulling away from relationships with friends and family
- Feelings like you want to hurt yourself or your care recipient
- Abusing drugs or alcohol, including prescription medications
Excessive stress, especially over long periods of time, can be very harmful. Become familiar with the signs of caregiver burnout or stress and take steps to prevent and deal with caregiver burnout and improve your own health and ability to support the person in your care.
How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
Here’s what you can do to help prevent yourself or someone you know from developing caregiver burnout.
- Enlist and accept help from others. Take time to take care of yourself. Get other friends or family members to provide support on a regular basis so you can take a break and address your own needs. Prepare a list of ways that others can help and let them choose how they would like to help. Even taking just a couple of hours away to go shopping, have coffee with friends or to take an uninterrupted nap can make a world of difference, allowing you to return to your caregiving responsibilities refreshed and invigorated.
- Be realistic about the care recipient’s condition. They may not always be happy or as healthy as they are now or as you would like, especially when a progressive disease or terminal condition is present. They may never be able to be fully independent again. Be realistic about what you’re able to do and what you cannot do. Realize that it may become necessary and prudent to move the care recipient to a personal care community or an assisted living community for their benefit as well as yours.
- Give yourself a break. Realize that no one is a perfect caregiver and that it’s normal to feel guilty at times. Believe that you are doing the best you can with the situation that you find yourself in.
- Give yourself permission to say “no” to requests that are draining, such as hosting meals over the holidays. You don’t need to take on more responsibilities than you already have.
- Accept your feelings. It’s normal to experience negative emotions such as anger or frustration. You’re not a bad person if negative emotions pop up. It’s what you do with those feelings and emotions that’s important.
- Don’t bottle up or suppress your emotions. Find ways to regularly release the pressure and feelings you have. For example, you may want to find one or more people you trust in whom to confide — individuals you feel comfortable discussing your feelings and frustrations with. Talking about how you feel and your situation can make a world of difference.
- Talk to a professional. Most clergy members, social workers and therapists are trained to counsel people dealing with a wide range of issues. You may also be able to find professionals who specialize in caregiver burnout.
- Join a caregiver support group. Having the opportunity to share your feelings and experiences with others who are in the same situation can help manage stress, reduce your feelings of frustration and isolation and may help you locate resources to make your job as care provider easier. Local organizations, such as your local Area Agency on Aging, can help you find a support group in your area and may be able to help arrange for respite care so you can attend. There are also many online support groups you could join.
- Eat healthy meals and snacks. Your physical health is just as important as your mental health and can greatly affect the way you feel.
- Get plenty of sleep. When you don’t get good quality sleep over long periods of time, your health will suffer. Many caregivers experience sleep difficulties and you should talk to a doctor if you’re having problems getting a good night’s rest on a regular basis.
- Exercise is a wonderful stress reliever and a great way to take care of yourself.
- Develop new coping tools. Emphasize the positive. Find small activities and moments of joy you can enjoy regularly. This can be as simple as enjoying a hot cup of coffee or tea before starting your day.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about what the person in your care needs, the better. You’ll know what to expect as time goes on, and you’ll be a more effective care provider.
- Establish a daily routine. Routines help you feel more in control of your day. That doesn’t mean you can’t switch things up, but try to focus on the most important routines to you and your care recipient so you both get what you need.
- Set realistic goals. Caregivers often only have short periods of time in which to accomplish tasks, so break larger tasks into smaller more doable steps. Use lists and check off items as they are completed, helping you see that you are making progress. Prioritize “to do” lists and work on the most important tasks first.
Remember, Full-Time Help is an Option
When things become overwhelming, it could be time for someone else should step in to supply the caregiving services you now provide. Professional help, such as personal care that helps with daily tasks, can alleviate your responsibility as a caregiver, allowing you to return to your former role as spouse, daughter or son, close friend or other family member.
That’s where Heritage of Peachtree comes in. We’re a personal care community located in Peachtree, Georgia. We provide a comfortable, supportive living environment for adults who need assistance with daily tasks such as getting dressed and eating. Our services are designed to support both residents and their family and friends so everyone can enjoy healthier, happier and more balanced lives. Give us a call or contact us online if you’d like more information on how we can help you and the person in your care.