Caregivers are incredibly important to us, and burnout is a very real issue. The term “caregiver” can apply to anyone who consistently looks after another person and their health on a regular basis. This could apply to the family caregiver who takes care of a family member daily, or it could apply to the millions of professionals, such as Home Health Aides, or the plethora of nurses who provide home care. Of course, professionals in an assisted living residence are also caregivers, but their responsibilities are shared, which can slightly lighten what feels to be a heavy and personal load.
What is Caregiver Burnout and how can it be avoided? What can you do if you’re already in the thick of it?
What is Caregiver Burnout?
WebMD defines Caregiver Burnout as, “Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.” The daily demands of caring for a patient or family member slowly and subtly start to wear down on the caregiver. Even for the most resilient of people, it sneaks up on us and before we know it, we’re down a rabbit hole of exhaustion.
Burnout doesn’t just happen physically. Of course, the lack of proper sleep and rest makes it easy to achieve a state of burnout. But the mental and emotional demands of constant caring for another individual are even more than we anticipate.
Because burnout can lead to health problems, relationship problems and even mental health issues, taking care of ourselves isn’t something we “can do later, when we have time”. It’s a necessity. And because the slow climb to burnout can be a subtle one, we need to be aware of the signs and more importantly, what we can do to avoid it before it gets to us.
What Are the Signs of Caregiver Burnout?
The signs are not limited to the items on this list, but this will give you a good idea what to be aware of:
- Feeling tired all the time; exhausted even after resting or sleeping
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, even prescription medications
- Getting sick more often than usual; catching “every cold”
- Trouble focusing
- More than usual fluctuations in weight gain or loss; change in appetite
- Reactions that are disproportionate to events; overreactions to situations
- Feeling sad or angry for a reason you’re not sure of; feeling worried all the time
- Feeling that you may want to harm yourself or your patient
Strategies to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Caregiving as a family member or as a professional is extremely rewarding, but of course can be incredibly stressful. Read on to see some strategies you can practice to stay emotionally, mentally and physical healthy.
Reshape your perspective of your role. You are empowered to care for another person, to make decisions that better their life. Embrace the choice you have made and the benefits of care and human connection that come with the responsibility. Practice acceptance and focus on the care you provide. Know that you are making the best decisions that you can. Understand your limits and do not focus on the things you are not able to change.
Get the support that you need. We all need support in our roles and sometimes that can be tough to find. Get connected with people in your life who are supportive and let them know how you are feeling. No one can read minds and we need to tell the people who care about us how we’re doing. Talk to your doctor, therapist or clergy member about how you’re feeling. There are also online support groups, some led by therapists or counsellors. Find a terrific list of online groups here.
Self Care. The term “self care” means caring for self. This becomes even more critical when you spend all your time caring for someone else. Self care means eating when you need to eat, not just when there is “time”. It also means getting some exercise on a daily basis, even a brief walk. Getting the proper amount of sleep (on a regular basis) is crucial.
Make sure that you are staying connected to things that bring you pleasure or joy. Watching a good movie, having a good laugh with a friend, taking a bath and catching up on a book, or enjoying even 30 minutes of a hobby once a week will help to offset burnout. While we often think about “scheduling” important things like meetings or appointments, scheduling self-care time is vital for a caregiver to be at their healthiest and best.
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