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Caregiver Burnout: Symptoms, Prevention, and Resources

I have a story about caregiver burnout. Right after my dad suffered a debilitating stroke, he told my mother that he was concerned about how caring for him would impact her. She said, “For 51 years you’ve been a wonderful husband. Your care is prepaid with me.”

Four years later, in exasperation one morning as she was helping him get dressed, she said, “Do you remember when I said your care was prepaid? Well, guess what, pal?! You just overdrew your account. And if you don’t start doing some things to help yourself, you are going to be bankrupt very, very soon!”

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms

I don’t think it matters how capable, committed, loving or self-sacrificing you are. Caring for a loved one 24/7, over an extended period of time, will wear you down. Be aware of the warning signs of caregiver burnout. Some signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout include:

  • Lack of interest in things that you usually like to do.
  • Losing sleep.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Frequently getting sick.
  • Physical exhaustion.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Other feelings of stress and depression.

If you’d like to get a sense of where you rank on the caregiver burnout scale, take this quick self-assessment. Don’t over-think your answers. If the statement resonates with you, make a check mark. We will total the check marks at the end.

Caregiver Burnout Quiz

  • It’s hard for me to find time to do things I like to do. I have given up a lot of activities I used to enjoy.
  • I have trouble sleeping and I frequently wake up feeling tired and dreading the day ahead.
  • I feel like I’ve lost touch with a lot of my friends.
  • I have dropped out of clubs, organizations, and social circles because I just can’t find the time to stay involved.
  • I have some alarming and/or annoying physical symptoms that I should probably discuss with my doctor.
  • There are days when I feel very trapped.
  • I know exercise is good for me, but I just don’t have time to go to a gym or a regularly scheduled class.
  • I frequently feel angry, frightened, and/or sad. I suspect I may be a little depressed.
  • I hesitate to ask family or friends to help because I don’t want to be a burden.
  • I feel guilty because I get impatient or angry, and sometimes I’ve even wished his/her suffering would just end.
  • Most days I don’t have the time or energy to take care of myself.

If you checked 4 or more statements, it is likely that you are suffering from caregiver burnout syndrome.

Caregiver Burnout Prevention

The most important thing you need to know about caregiver burnout is that in order to recuperate YOU MUST MAKE SELF-CARE A PRIORITY.

You have probably heard a hundred times over about the importance of eating right, exercising and getting enough rest. These common sense measures are of critical importance and should already be at the very top of your list. However, taking care of your body alone won’t help you avoid or recover from caregiver burnout. In order to survive the stress, you really must pay attention to your feelings and thoughts.

The following strategies may be of help for caregivers.

Value Yourself

Your care receiver may not be capable of understanding how much you are doing or sacrificing on his/her behalf. Family members and friends may resent the fact that you can’t always be there for them. Employers can be understanding through a short-term crisis, but eventually, they get cranky if your caregiving responsibilities interfere with your ability to do your job. It’s likely that over the long term, you will get more criticism from others than praise, so you must learn to value yourself by:

  1. Taking an objective look at all you do.
  2. Thinking about what it would take to replace you.
  3. Imagining how appreciative you would be if the roles were reversed and someone was doing for you what you are currently doing for your care receiver.

Decide What You Can Do Willingly

Caregivers have huge hearts, which is a wonderful thing. The downside is that we often end up doing things we don’t want to do. Most of the time, we act out of love. However, way too often we are motivated by a sense of obligation and/or guilt. Realize that no one can make you do anything. You do what you do because you are willing to do it. If you are willing to give more than you want to give, there will always be people who are happy to accept it.

If you are in a pattern of sacrificing your own health and happiness in order to meet someone else’s needs, you might want to try the following steps to regain some independence and control:

  1. Make a list of what you need to do to take care of yourself.
  2. Set boundaries to determine what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do.
  3. Ask for and accept help.

If you have reached a point where you can no longer manage a loved one’s care on your own, it’s time to reach out and get outside caregiver support.

Hire Help For Caregiver Burnout

Bringing a home care worker into your home even a few times a week can provide you with a physical and emotional break. It will give you time to run errands, have lunch with a friend or go to an exercise class. If your loved one doesn’t sleep at night, you probably aren’t sleeping either. Caregiver fatigue is a fast track to caregiver burnout. The easiest way to recover is to get some sleep. Hiring someone to come in at night will cost a little money, but it will be significantly less than moving your loved one into a long-term care facility.

Join Caregiver Burnout Support Groups

Get involved in a caregiver support group. This is a safe place to vent. You will learn that having negative feelings doesn’t make you a bad person. You will also discover that you are not alone. You’ll make new friends and through sharing your experiences and listening to the stories of others, you will learn and grow.

Reconnect

In a moment of crisis, it is normal and appropriate to focus all of your energy and attention on your care receiver. However, doing this over an extended period of time will leave you feeling physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually depleted. People who experience caregiver burnout have a tendency to withdraw and gradually become less empathetic toward the person/people in their care.  They also become vulnerable to making some really bad choices.

NEWS FLASH — You cannot overcome caregiver burnout by getting a divorce, running to the liquor store, or eating ice cream out of a gallon container with a tablespoon.

The first step to recovering from this condition is to recognize and become aware of the fact that you have been ignoring your own needs. Reconnecting with friends and staying involved in a few social activities will help. Try to have at least one meaningful conversation a day with someone who cares about you.

More than anything, try to reconnect with yourself.  Ask yourself:

  • Who am I at my core?
  • Who am I outside of my role as a caregiver?
  • What brought me joy and fulfillment before I became a caregiver?
  • What do I need to do now to take care of myself?

Caregiver Burnout Recovery

Overcoming caregiver burnout generally requires a break that provides some physical rest and emotional distance. It also may require a shift in your thinking and some courage to say, “I can’t do it all any more.” It’s possible that your care receiver and other family members will get angry and try to manipulate you by making you feel selfish and guilty. If they do, shrug it off. You are not responsible for their feelings. Self care is not selfish. It’s critical to your survival.

When you learn to take care of yourself, you will most likely discover that you’ll be more capable and more willing to continue giving to others.

Elaine K Sanchez is an author, speaker and co-founder of CaregiverHelp.com, a video based caregiver support program. She also co-teaches “Gero 407 – Caregiving” at Western Oregon University with her husband, Dr. Alex Sanchez.

 

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