Does any of this sound familiar?
- You feel a sense of constant fatigue.
- You’ve experienced a change in appetite or sleep habits.
- You feel helpless, trapped and defeated.
- You’re starting to feel resentful of the person you’re looking after.
- You’ve been withdrawing from friends, family and activities you used to enjoy.
- You’ve started taking your frustration out on others.
- You have frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches.
- You’re relying more on food, drugs or alcohol to cope?
Caregiver burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands put on you. Much like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the symptoms of burnout can begin surfacing months after a traumatic episode. It’s not “just the way life is now”. There are ways to recover from it and prevent it from happening again.
Causes of Caregiver Burnout
Caregivers are often so busy caring for their loved one that they neglect to look after their own needs. As the stress piles up, emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion build, frustration and despair take hold and burnout isn’t far behind.
Caregiving involves many stressors:
Changes in the family dynamic – Role confusion can result when a caregiver is also spouse, child or friend.
Household disruption – You may not have time to do the things you’d like to do with or for your own family, or maybe you can’t entertain as you’d like because your dining room has become a sickroom.
Unrealistic expectations – It’s natural to expect your loyalty and hard work to be appreciated by the person you’re caring for and for it to have a positive effect on their happiness, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes your expectations may be unrealistic if the patient is depressed themselves or perhaps suffering from a progressive disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Also, there are limits to what anyone can handle; you shouldn't expect yourself to do it all.
There are also financial pressures, lack of control, lack of resources, and the sheer amount of work involved.
Preventing Caregiver Burn-out
Being able to cope with the strains and stresses of being a Caregiver is part of the art of Caregiving. In order to remain healthy so that we can continue to be Caregivers, we must be able to see our own limitations and learn to care for ourselves as well as others
Adopt healthy eating, exercising and sleeping habits. Research proves a healthy, well-rested body is better able to absorb the rigors of stressful times.
Be realistic about the situation and accept your feelings - Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief.
Talk about it – Don’t bottle up your feelings. Caregiver support groups are invaluable, but trusted friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members can help too. Often, just talking about it can relieve the stress.
Maintain a sense of humor – Stuff happens; try to laugh it off.
Be flexible – Staying easy going will help you maintain your sanity.
Give yourself a break – Set realistic goals and accept that you may need to turn to others for help with some tasks. Enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or “sit with” the care receiver so you can take a well-deserved break. Caregiving is a job and respite is your earned right. Taking care of yourself is NOT a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity.