Caregiver burnout is a very real and common occurrence. It can not only affect a caregiver’s mental health but their physical health as well. It can occur among all health settings and diagnoses, including caring for children with disabilities.
Studies have shown that over 40 million people – close to 20 percent of the U.S. population – provide an average of 34 hours a week of unpaid care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout, as described by WebMD, is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude – changing a person’s outlook from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.
Common causes of caregiver burnout
Taking care of a loved one with a disease or disability is hard work. It can be devastating to go from a spouse or partner, a son or daughter, to full-time caregiver.
Not only do caregivers deal with the physical challenges of taking care of their loved ones, but they must also deal with the emotional realization that their loved one isn’t the same person they once were or will never become the person they had hoped for.
Warning signs of caregiver burnout
Lack of energy or overwhelming fatigue
Sleep problems, either too much or too little
Changes in eating habits; weight loss or gain
Feeling of hopelessness, depression or mood swings
Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed
Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
Feeling like the caregiving is controlling your life
Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative with the person you’re caring for and/or with others
Anxiety about the future
Difficulty coping with everyday things
Headaches, stomachaches and other physical problems
Lowered resistance to illness
Caregiver burnout prevention
Now that you know what to look for, here are some tips to help you pre-empt caregiver burnout:
Ask for help! Needing help doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. It simply means you can’t do it alone – no one can do it alone.
Give yourself permission to take breaks: Get out of the house, visit with friends, pamper yourself with a massage, take a long bath.
Take care of yourself. Don’t skip your own doctor’s appointments because you’re too busy. Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep.
Get up 15 minutes earlier and use the time just for you. Sit with your coffee or tea and enjoy it. Journal about your struggles and feelings. Meditate, pray, stretch. … Do whatever you want to do.
Make a list of your daily activities and tasks. See if you can delegate any of them. Perhaps your spouse can make dinner a time or two a week. Maybe a friend or relative can run errands or help with laundry. People often want to help – take them up on it!
Check into family-leave benefits from your place of work. Take a huge weight off your shoulders by giving you more hours in your day.
Look for local support groups. Communicating with others who are in your situation helps immensely, as does opening up and sharing your frustrations – and your joys!
There is support, there are shortcuts and there are strategies for reorganizing your priorities to make you a happier person and a better caregiver.