Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Caregiver burnout can occur when caregivers are not receiving adequate support, or doing more than they are physically, emotionally, or financially able to accomplish.
Often caregivers feel guilty if they take time for themselves. They feel obligated to be there for their loved ones 24/7. Caregivers that are experiencing fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression may be on the way to burning out.
What causes caregiver burnout?
Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical, and spiritual health. The demands on the caregiver’s body, mind, and spirit can lead to overwhelm, fatigue, stress, depression, and ultimately burnout.
Other factors that can lead to caregiver burnout include:
- Role confusion: Many people are confused when thrust into the role of caregiver. It can be difficult for people to separate their roles as caregivers from their roles as spouses, lovers, children, friends, or in other close relationships.
- Lack of control: Many caregivers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources, and skills to effectively plan, manage, and organize their loved one’s care.
- Unreasonable demands: Some caregivers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves. Many caregivers see providing care as their exclusive responsibility. Some family members, such as siblings, adult children, or the patient himself/herself may place unreasonable demands on the caregiver. They place the primary burden of care on the primary caregiver without offering much assistance or support.
- Other factors: Many caregivers cannot recognize when they are suffering burnout and eventually get to the point where they cannot function effectively. They may even become sick themselves.
What are the signs you may be experiencing caregiver burnout?
- Buffering with excess food, alcohol, television, social media, shopping
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of focus or concentration
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Insomnia or sleep disturbances
- Getting sick more often
- Feeling blue or apathetic
This is just a partial list. Every individual is unique. You may experience other signs not included above. Maybe you are having difficulty making decisions. You feel like you cannot do or add “one more thing”. You wish someone would come in and take charge. I know for me, I had thoughts like:
- I just cannot make one more decision
- This is too hard
- I am exhausted
- I wish I could run away
- I need a vacation
- I can’t keep going like this
These are warning signs that you may need a break. You may be on the road to burnout.
The best scenario is to develop tools and strategies to prevent burnout before you experience it. Below are some tools that can prevent caregiver burnout:
- Make plans and automate decisions (automate anything you can).
- Set alarms for medications and other care tasks so you don’t think/worry about them.
- Hire a coach. It can be helpful to get insight and input from a person that is outside of your bubble. We get tunnel vision and do not see options that are available.
- Hire a counselor or therapist.
- Know your limitations. We cannot be superheroes every day.
- Seek respite and outside caregiver services. This is vital. I cannot believe how many caregivers think they can do it all by themselves.
- Trust others to care for your loved one. They may do it differently. You may have to try out several to find a good fit (like a good pair of jeans), but it is worth the time.
- Share your feelings and your struggles. Do not try to suppress the challenges and the feelings. I always say you have to “feel the feels”. Being sad, angry, mad, frustrated, lonely, and isolated are all normal when caring for a disabled or ill loved one.
- Ask for help and be specific about how someone can support you. Example: “Emily has a prescription waiting at CVS. Would you please pick it up and drop it off? I will Venmo the money for it.”
- Take time each day to do something just for yourself. It may be just listening to a song that pumps you up and dancing around the living room. Maybe locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes to do a quick meditation or box breathing.
- Call a friend.
- Lean into your partner if you have one. Share your struggles and be specific in how they can help.
- On that note: nurture your relationships with friends, family, and partners. Connection is vital.
- Drink water. Move your body. Establish a regular sleep routine.
- Join a support group. Meeting with others that “get it” helps you feel less isolated. You realize you are not alone.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh.
- Look for ways to create joy each day. Some days have “more suck” than others, but you can always find something to be grateful for. Don’t underestimate the power of gratitude.
- Schedule health and wellness visits for YOU, not just your loved ones. (I define this as boring self-care.)
If you feel like you are experiencing caregiver burnout, reach out for help. Talk to a loved one, a therapist, a counselor, a friend, or a spiritual leader. Seek resources through your community for added support/care for your loved one. Don’t be an island. Reach out and find connections, support, and resources. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
You do not have to go through this alone.
Take the Caregiver Burnout Quiz to see where you are at right now.