Signs of caregiver burnout and what to do about it
Solutions to help caregivers thrive
While many caregivers feel it is an honor or a privilege to be able to provide care for an aging loved one, their feelings of love for the person do not make them immune to experiencing caregiver burnout. While caring for elderly parents does come with moments of joy and a sense of reward or fulfillment, caregivers may become so involved in caring for others that their own physical, emotional and spiritual needs are ignored. This is especially common when a caregiver is shouldering the responsibility alone or when they try to take on more duties than they have the personal or financial resources to manage.
Caregivers often say they feel guilty about spending time or money on themselves. They worry about the things that aren’t getting done, the relationships they aren’t nurturing, and the needs of other members of their family like their spouse and children. In trying to be everything to everyone, caregivers can end up putting their own health in jeopardy and increasing their risk for depression, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and even premature death. It’s not just important — it’s crucial for caregivers to take care of themselves so they can continue to care for others.
Recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout
According to the National Institutes of Health, each year approximately 43 million adults in the U.S. provide unpaid care for someone with a serious health condition. And most of them also hold down a full-time job. Is it any wonder that adding the stresses and demands of caregiving can result in burnout?
If you’re a primary caregiver, it’s important to recognize the signs of burnout before they become overwhelming. Awareness can help you keep tabs on yourself, and it can also help your friends and family members stay on the lookout for signs that you are beginning to suffer burnout. The Alzheimer’s Association lists the following 10 symptoms of caregiver stress:
- You may be in denial about your loved one’s health condition and the effects it has on them. You may think that, if you just care enough and do enough, you will be able to help your loved one get better. However, when dealing with a chronic, progressive illness like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, it is not realistic to think that you will be able to affect the ultimate outcome. If you are in denial about your loved one’s condition and your ability to change the circumstances, you may experience feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
- While it may not seem rational, when you are experiencing high levels of stress or burnout, you may feel anger toward the person for whom you are caring. You may feel frustrated that they can no longer do the things they once did and wonder if they’re just pretending or being stubborn. You may also feel especially stressed when in their presence.
- Social withdrawal. If you find you’re avoiding interacting with friends or family members you once enjoyed spending time with, or you’ve lost interest in activities you once enjoyed, consider it a red flag.
- Unfortunately, there is no shortage of things for caregivers to think or worry about. You may wonder about your ability to continue providing the care your loved one needs in the future. Anxieties about other parts of your life are also common, including your job or your family, and anxiety may make it difficult for you to move through your day and complete common tasks.
- Depression. Many of the symptoms of caregiver burnout are the same as those for depression, which is common among caregivers. You may feel isolated, alienated, helpless or hopeless. If you experience thoughts of hurting yourself or the person you’re caring for, seek help immediately.
- Exhaustion. Of course you’re tired but, in a caregiver experiencing burnout, a simple lack of energy can become a feeling of overwhelming fatigue that makes it difficult or even impossible to complete basic tasks.
- You may have an endless loop of worries, responsibilities and to-do list items running through your mind all day and night. You may also experience changes in your sleep patterns.
- Burnout can cause you to be irritable and to experience moodiness and negative responses that are unusual for you. You may feel pulled in many directions and lash out at others who place demands on your time or mental energy. If you feel like you may lose control physically or emotionally, reach out for help.
- Lack of concentration. No surprise here. With so many responsibilities on your mind, you may experience an inability to concentrate that can make it difficult to perform your job or other familiar tasks. You may find that you miss appointments and forget the most basic requests or instructions.
- Health problems. Caregiving can take a mental, emotional and physical toll on caregivers who don’t find ways to manage their stress. You may experience changes in appetite, weight gain or weight loss, or get sick more often than usual. Some caregivers resort to use of alcohol, medications or sleeping pills to help them cope, but this only creates worse problems.
If any of these 10 signs of caregiver burnout sound familiar to you, don’t ignore them. Reach out to a friend, family member or your doctor for assistance. The most important thing you can do for everyone you love and care for is to make the time to take care of yourself and your health.
Ways to prevent or improve caregiver burnout
There’s a reason flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first. If your health is suffering, you won’t be able to care for others. Below we’ll take a look at some of the ways you can address symptoms of caregiver burnout.
- Make self-care a top priority. Remember what we said about putting on your oxygen mask first? Find ways to take consistent breaks and do things that bring you joy. While that’s different for everyone, certain small habits can produce big benefits. For example, establish a morning routine. Go to the gym or simply take a walk outside. Read devotionals or positive affirmations. Write down things you’re thankful for. Establish a sleep routine to ensure you’re getting enough rest. And because food is fuel for your body and mind, eat a healthful diet.
Also make tending to your own health a priority. See your doctor for your annual checkups and whenever you notice symptoms of illness or depression. Stay up to date on vaccinations, and make sure your doctor knows you’re a caregiver.
- Seek mental and emotional support. Talking with a licensed therapist can help reduce your stress and help you gain perspective on your personal circumstances. A therapist’s office is a safe place to express your feelings and receive sympathetic, constructive feedback. You can also look for a support group in your local area or even online. Support groups offer resources and problem-solving strategies and give you an opportunity to talk with people who are going through similar situations. Disease-specific groups can be particularly helpful. Above all, surround yourself with positive people who are good listeners and who are compassionate and understanding.
- Set realistic goals. Take the time to really think about what you are willing and able to do as a caregiver, and share your thoughts and feelings with your family members. Enlist their help in providing care for your loved one or in finding outside assistance to take some of the responsibility off your shoulders.
- Ask for help. Are there other family members who could pitch in? If not, consider hiring an aide to help with some daily tasks. Also look into community resources that may be available. Seniors are often eligible for low- or no-cost services such as home visits, meal delivery and adult day programs. Your local Area Agency on Aging can help you locate these resources.
- Consider adult day programs. Seniors often enjoy and benefit from the opportunity to get out and socialize with others. Adult day programs usually offer a combination of services that may include everything from entertainment and enriching activities to meals and assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing and grooming. Some also provide certain nursing services. For assistance in finding an adult day program near you, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
- Think smart. Smart devices, that is. There are a wide variety of smart devices that can enable you to control various home systems remotely, and video components that allow you to keep an eye on what’s going on when you can’t be there. There are also digital tools that provide medication reminders and automated alerts.
- Get smart. Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition so you’ll have a realistic idea of what to expect over time, how to handle medication management, safety considerations, how to manage various behaviors, and how to assist your loved one with activities of daily living. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be, which can help ease feelings of anxiety.
- Communicate efficiently. Use a system for communicating with friends and family members about your loved one’s condition and any test or procedures. It can be as simple as sending a group email, or you can use a website like CaringBridge that gives you a place to post updates and allow visitors to comment or send words of encouragement. Blogs and social media platforms can also be used, but no matter what method of communication you choose, be sure to adjust privacy settings to ensure that only those you want to have access will be able to see the information you post.
Consider the advantages of a respite stay.
A respite stay at a senior living community like Freedom Plaza at Sun City Center provides a way for you to take a break and attend to your own needs while knowing your loved one is in good hands. Whether you need a vacation, have to go on a business trip, or attend to personal affairs, your loved one will be well cared for while also enjoying amenities like enriching programs, entertainment and delicious meals, as well as the camaraderie of other residents in our assisted living community. While here, they will have a private room and receive personalized assistance with tasks like bathing, dressing and grooming as needed.
In short, a respite stay can be a win-win: You get some much-needed time for rest and self-care, and your loved one enjoys a change of scenery and excellent care in a stimulating, uplifting environment.
Do you need time to refresh and unwind from the stresses of caregiving? To learn more about how a respite stay at Freedom Plaza at Sun City Center can help you and your loved one, simply call us at 813-418-6584 to schedule a personal appointment. We’d love to give you a tour and answer all your questions.