Where Caregiving Becomes Stressful: Coping With Caregiver Burnout
When I used to care for my elderly grandfather on my own, there were times when I felt so exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to do more than just close my eyes and rest. It’s not to say that I didn’t like caring for my grandpa, but just that all the caregiving – without taking a break – did take a toll on my well-being.
I didn’t understand this. I felt guilty for feeling this way; tired and frustrated. But then I met a friend, who was then caring for his grandfather as well; a grandfather with Parkinson’s. And whenever we’d sit together, we’d talk about the stress all the caregiving was putting us through.
It wasn’t until my grandfather peacefully passed away that I came across the term “Caregiver Burnout” or more easily, caregiver stress. Now, I know first-hand how caregiving without a break can take a toll on your health, but there are still people I know who feel guilt for feeling caregiving stress, so today I’m offering a safe space for all those struggling with caregiving burnout to understand that it’s OK to feel stressed and exhausted when caring for someone and that you don’t have to do it alone.
Let’s take a moment to learn what caregiver burnout looks like, what might be causing your caregiver stress, and what steps you can take to prevent and cope with caregiver burnout.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that is often experienced by people who are primarily responsible for the ongoing care of their loved ones. Caregiver burnout can also be experienced by long-term nurses and doctors who provide around-the-clock care to patients. This condition can arise from the chronic stress and overwhelming responsibilities that caregivers may face.
More often than not, caregivers feel guilty for taking care of themselves rather than wish negatively on the people they’re caring for. It’s also highly likely that caregiver exhaustion and stress can lead to chronic fatigue, anxiety, and even depression.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout symptoms can range from irritability and fatigue to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Here are some common symptoms of caregiver burnout that you should be aware of;
- Socially isolating yourself from loved ones
- Losing interest in activities you enjoyed previously
- Feeling blue and depressed
- Not eating well or experiencing loss in appetite
- Not sleeping well or experiencing changes in sleep patterns
- Feeling physically sick
- Feeling guilty and hopeless
- Feeling emotionally drained and exhausted
- Neglecting your own needs and health
- Feeling angry and confrontational
- Constantly worrying
- Not being able to concentrate
If the caregiver’s burnout symptoms are left unaddressed, then this can lead the caregiver to indulge in substance abuse to relieve the symptoms. This can, ultimately, increase the risk of harm to the one receiving care.
What Causes of Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiving is a tough and mentally tedious job and because caregivers are always busy caring, they often end up neglecting their needs and care. Some of the common actors that can cause caregiver burnout can include;
1. Expectations: It’s safe to assume that caregivers would want to exude positivity and optimism to help the one they’re caring for recover faster. But it can be difficult to stay positive and hopeful all the time when the patient is struggling with something as destructive as cancer, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s.
2. Lack of Resources: Not all caregivers can afford a nursing home or world-class care facility to help their loved ones. Because of the lack of resources, a caregiver may become frustrated, anxious, and overly stressed as they are unable to organize proper care for their loved ones.
3. Constant Demands: Caregivers can also often find themselves juggling a lot of different tasks at the same time such as giving medications, managing doctor appointments, and proving emotional and physical support to their loved ones. Because of the constant demands and no time to care for their own needs, caregivers may become overwhelmed.
4. Lack of Social Support: It’s also common for caregivers, especially primary caregivers, to shoulder the responsibility of their loved ones on their shoulders without having support from other family members. This lack of support can also take a toll on the caregiver, contributing to caregiver burnout.
Diagnosing caregiver burnout is difficult. Because the majority of caregivers feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed and stressed, they often refuse to speak up and discuss their concerns with others, including professionals. However, a professional may want to evaluate a person for stress symptoms and chronic fatigue to determine if they are struggling with caregiver burnout.
How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout?
Even though it’s not always easy to treat caregiver exhaustion or burnout, you can take some precautionary steps to make sure the stress and burnout symptoms do not worsen. Here are some ways you can prevent caregiver burnout;
1. Reach out to someone you trust.
Talking to someone whom you can trust – a friend, a mentor, a family member, etc. – can help you release the frustration and feelings festering inside you.
2. Set realistic expectations.
You need to make sure you don’t keep too unrealistic expectations of yourself or your loved ones. Know that it’s OK to ask for help and assistance when needed. You can ask your family members to offer support or you can reach out to professional agencies for help.
3. Do not neglect yourself.
It’s very easy to forget you’re a different individual and have a different life when caring for a loved one. Trust me. There were days when my friends and family had to remind me that I have a life and that I should take time to care for myself. You can set aside one or two hours every day to self-care. Self-care, in such instances, is a necessity, so do it well.
4. Seek professional help.
A therapist or a social support network can also provide you with information and resources to deal with caregiver burnout. Professional mental health providers can help you manage your emotional and mental symptoms of caregiver stress and come up with healthy coping skills as well.
5. Learn about the illness.
To prevent and avoid caregiver burnout, you need to educate yourself and understand what illness your loved one is dealing with. When you know what illness, it is and how it affects them and the people around them, you can find better (and more effective) ways to deal with it.
6. Practice stress management techniques.
Do not forget to find relaxation techniques to manage and release stress. You can start by meditating, engaging in regular exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep. These techniques can help you feel lighter and care for your loved one with a fresh mind and healthy emotions.
7. Express your feelings.
Just because you’re a caregiver doesn’t mean that you can’t find healthy ways to express what you’re feeling. If you feel negative emotions such as irritability, frustration, and anger – express them. You can either journal about them or find other healthy outlets to let these emotions out.
8. Join a support group.
The best way to share your feelings and get validated for them is to join a support group. You can share your feelings and experiences in the group and listen (and learn) from others’ experiences as well on how to prevent and cope with caregiver burnout.
Caregiving might be a noble and selfless job, but without proper care and support for oneself, it can soon become a burden too heavy to carry. It’s good to care for your loved ones when they need your care and support but know that it’s also important to pay attention to self-care so that the stress of it all doesn’t lead to burnout and exhaustion.
Caring for a loved one is good, but if you don’t take time and breaks for yourself, then soon, it can take a toll on your emotional, mental, and physical health.
You can start addressing caregiver burnout by understanding what it looks like, what causes caregiver stress, and how you can prevent and cope with it. I hope the tips I’ve listed above would help you cope with caregiver exhaustion and stress. It helps me when I need a break!
Let me know what you think about the tips listed above in the comments section below. You can also share your thoughts and feelings on caring for a loved one and how it takes a toll on your well-being with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take Care and Stay Safe!