Signs of Burnout
Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it also involves many stressors: changes in the family dynamic, household disruption, financial pressure, and the added workload. So is it any wonder that caregivers are some of the people most prone to burnout?
Caregiver stress can be particularly damaging, since it is typically a chronic, long-term challenge. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better. Without adequate help and support, the stress of caregiving leaves you vulnerable to a wide range of physical and emotional problems, ranging from heart disease to depression.
When caregiver stress and burnout puts your own health at risk, it affects your ability to provide care. It hurts both you and the person you’re caring for. The key point is that caregivers need care too. Managing the stress levels in your life is just as important as making sure your family member gets to his doctor’s appointment or takes her medication on time.
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress
• Anxiety, depression, irritability
• Feeling tired and run down
• Difficulty sleeping
• Overreacting to minor nuisances
• New or worsening health problems
• Trouble concentrating
• Feeling increasingly resentful
• Drinking, smoking, or eating more
• Neglecting responsibilities
• Cutting back on leisure activities
Caregiver burnout is a gradual process that occurs over an extended period of time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can creep up on you if you’re not paying attention to the warning signals. The signs and symptoms of burnout are subtle at first, but they get worse and worse as time goes on.
Think of the early symptoms of caregiver burnout as warning signs or red flags that something is wrong that needs to be addressed. If you pay attention to these early warning signs, you can prevent a major breakdown. If you ignore them, you’ll eventually burn out.
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout
• You have much less energy than you used to
• It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
• You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
• You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
• Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
• You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
• You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
• You feel helpless and hopeless
Once you burn out, caregiving is no longer a healthy option for either you or the person you’re caring for. So it’s important to watch for the warning signs of caregiver burnout and take action right away when you recognize the problem.
Dealing with Caregiver Stress & Burnout
1. Ask for help
Taking on all of the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks or assistance is a surefire recipe for burnout. Don’t try to do it all alone. Look into respite care. Or enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or “baby-sit” the care receiver so you can take a well-deserved break. Speak up; spread the responsibility; set up a regular check-in by a family member or friend; say “YES” when someone offers assistance; and be willing to relinquish some control. These are just some of the ways you can get the help you need.
2. Give yourself a break
As a busy caregiver, leisure time may seem like an impossible luxury. But you owe it to yourself—as well as to the person you’re caring for—to carve it into your schedule. Give yourself permission to rest and to do things that you enjoy on a daily basis. You will be a better caregiver for it. There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. If you’re not regularly taking time-off to de-stress and recharge your batteries, you’ll end up getting less done in the long run. After a break, you should feel more energetic and focused, so you’ll quickly make up for your relaxation time. Set aside a minimum of 30 minutes every day for yourself. Find ways to pamper yourself. Make yourself laugh – laughter is an excellent and natural antidote to stress. Get out of the house. Visit with friends.
3. Practice acceptance
When faced with the unfairness of a loved one’s illness or the burden of caregiving, there’s often a need to make sense of the situation and ask “Why?” But you can spend a tremendous amount of energy dwelling on things you can’t change and for which there are no clear answers. And at the end of the day, you won’t feel any better. Try to avoid the emotional trap of feeling sorry for yourself or searching for someone to blame. Focus instead on accepting the situation and looking for ways it can help you grown as a person. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Focus on the things you can control. Find the silver lining. Share your feelings with others. And avoid tunnel vision.
4. Take care of your health
Think of your body like a car. With the right fuel and proper maintenance, it will run reliably and well. Neglect its upkeep and it will start to give you trouble. Don’t add to the stress of your caregiving situation with avoidable health woes. Keep on top of your doctor visits. Exercise often and regularly – it’s a powerful stress reliever and mood enhancer. Meditate – try yoga, deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness meditation. Eat well and don’t skimp out on sleep.
5. Join a support group
A caregiver support group is a great way to share your troubles and find people who are going through the same experiences that you are living each day. If you can’t leave the house, many Internet groups are also available. In most support groups, you’ll talk about your problems and listen to others talk; you’ll not only get help, but you’ll also be able to help others. Most important, you’ll find out that you’re not alone. You’ll feel better knowing that other people are in the same situation, and their knowledge can be invaluable, especially if they’re caring for someone with the same illness as you are.