When a loved one is suffering from a chronic illness or disability, it can be difficult to navigate their care as well as your own. If you’re one of 40 million caregivers in the United States providing care to adults over the age of 18, you may be experiencing an increased demand of your time, energy, effort, and emotions.
On average, caregivers spend 24.4 hours per week providing care while those who’s loved ones have more severe illnesses spend 41 hours or more providing care.
With so much time dedicated to caring for another person, being a caregiver can take a toll physically, mentally, and emotionally. Caregivers are so consumed with taking care of their loved one, they put their own needs aside and start to experience burnout.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, exhaustion from the stress and burden of caring for loved ones. They may feel alone, unsupported or unappreciated in their commitment in caring for their loved one.
Caregiver burnout shouldn’t be taken lightly. “We talk with caregivers about these things being like warning lights on the dashboard of your car. They are an indication that you need to stop and notice them” said Ruth Drew, the Director of Information and Support Services at the Alzheimer’s Association.
While it’s normal to experience a little burnout at some point, if it is not addressed the caregiver will eventually become too worn out to provide the good care that the person receiving care needs. A study showed that caregivers who felt they were under severe strain had poorer health outcomes compared to those who felt little or no strain.
What causes caregiver burnout?
Demands on caregivers are high, so when a caregiver neglects their health it contributes to the stress they feel and amplifies exhaustion. Some causes of caregiver burnout can include:
- Unrealistic expectations
As a caregiver, it’s easy to have others place unreasonable demands on you and for you to place unreasonable demands on yourself. It’s common to think the more you are involved, the increased possibility of positive outcomes on the patient’s health and happiness. Unfortunately, you can’t make anyone well.
- Ambiguity of roles
There are many aspects of a person’s care, so sometimes caregivers may not know exactly what their roles and responsibilities are to those around them. It can be challenging to separate the role as a caregiver from the role as a spouse, child, sibling, friend, or any other close relationship.
In general daily life, there’s sometimes just too much to do. Now add being a caregiver in on top of that and it’s completely normal not to be able to get everything done.
- Lack of control
Many caregivers become frustrated and overwhelmed by their circumstances. A recent survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute found that 40 percent of caregivers felt emotionally stressed, 20 percent felt physically drained and 20 percent felt financial burdens. It can be difficult to find the resources and cultivate the skills necessary to effectively plan, manage and organize care.
What are the signs of caregiver burnout?
Because burnout affects everyone differently, some warning signs may vary. They can be physical, mental, or emotional, and can have varying degrees of intensity based on each caregiver’s situation; how long they have been providing care, level of care, type of illness or condition, and more.
Some common signs of caregiver burnout are similar to those of depression, and may include:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling sad, irritable, and hopeless
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling out of control of your life
- Difficulty coping with daily life
- Physical illness like headaches and stomaches
How to prevent caregiver burnout?
Caring for a loved one will never be stress-free, but when you are aware of the causes and signs of caregiver burnout you can start to take the steps you need to lighten the load, minimize stress and avoid complete burnout.
One way to treat and prevent caregiver burnout is practicing self-care. A few other ways to help keep you balanced are:
- Ask others for help
Asking for help doesn’t make you a bad caregiver, it just means you can’t do it all and you can’t do it alone. No one can! It’s ok to ask friends and family to lend hand to relieve some of your caregiving tasks.
- Get support
Talking about your experiences and receiving support from friends, family, therapist, or support group can help relieve some of the emotional stress from caregiving. Positive reinforcement from another person can validate your efforts and remind you that you aren’t alone.
- Set boundaries
An important part of caregiving, and creating healthy relationships with others, is knowing what you can and can not do. By setting boundaries, you empower yourself to give you the time and space you need to care of yourself.
- Schedule breaks
With the countless hours spent caring for another, you owe it to yourself to take a break. If you aren’t taking regular time off to de-stress and recharge, you end up accomplishing less in the long term. Carve some time into your schedule and give yourself permission to rest and do the things you enjoy doing. After taking a break you will feel more energetic and focused, becoming a better caregiver.
- Take care of your health
When you neglect your health, it will start giving you trouble. Taking care of your health includes regular check-ups at the doctor, moderate exercise a few days a week, nutritious food, and quality sleep. While it may sound difficult to tend to all these things while caring for another, it will help to increase your mood, energy, and productivity.
- Coping skills
Finding ways to reduce stress and manage emotions is an important part of being able to be the best caregiver possible. Some effective coping skills are deep breathing exercises and meditation techniques.
- Respite care services
When you feel like you need a longer break with some soundness of mind, consider respite care services. Care services can provide in-home or out-of-home care for a few hours up to a few days.
Join the conversation
Caregiver burnout happens when caring for your loved one becomes overwhelming, leading to a decline in your health. There’s nothing you do to cause it, but there are steps you can do to prevent it from occurring.
The most important thing to remember is that neither the person you are caring for or you as the caregiver are alone. There are thousands of PatientsLikeMe members who are experiencing similar things you are. Join the conversation to connect with other caregivers and learn more ways to cope with the physical, emotional, and mental stressors you are experiencing.