It’s typical of caregivers to put their invalid loved one’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being before their own, but as a result, they’re often overwhelmed. Overwhelmed from constantly trying to do more than they can, and from doing it alone and not receiving the help and care they need themselves. This leads to a state called ‘caregiver burnout.’
Even after a caregiver does more than they’re able, it’s not uncommon for their loved one’s chronic condition to worsen over time. It’s a long road that can be depressing and dismal. And you have to carry the burden of caring for them. This ordeal becomes even more nerve-racking if you’re alone, unappreciated, and don’t have anyone to turn to for support.
If you don’t manage the stress and disappointment, you may soon find yourself physically and mentally exhausted. You might develop fatigue, depression, and anxiety – the telltale signs of caregiver burnout, which brings us to our first point: symptoms.
Identifying and treating the burnout in its early stages is crucial because the situation will get worse if left unchecked. We’ll list a few symptoms to help you recognize them early on.
- Weakened immune system (you may often find yourself ill with a headache, cold, or a fever)
- Physical exhaustion (you rarely, if ever feel well-rested)
- Losing interest in yourself and activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in behavior and feelings of irritability, fear, guilt, and helplessness
- Altered sleep and appetite
- Strained relationships with family members or thoughts of self-harm
- Feelings of resentment towards the one they’re caring for
- Unusual consumption of alcohol and tobacco to relieve these symptoms
With that in mind, you can take self-assessment questionnaires to figure out if you are experiencing burnout. The diagnosis can be made by your physician or mental healthcare professional as well. They’ll ask you to take a similar self-assessment test for depression since depression’s symptoms resemble burnout symptoms closely.
What Causes Burnout?
A study conducted in 2013, revealed that burnt-out caregivers are at a greater risk of dying than caregivers who aren’t under tremendous stress. A similar survey revealed that 20 percent of caregivers feel physically overwhelmed, 20 percent reported suffering from financial distress, and 40 percent felt emotionally distressed. Caregiver burnout is common, but it doesn’t just hurt you, it also hurts the care-recipient. When you’re experiencing burnout, you can’t care for your loved ones well enough.
A caregiver spends their day preparing meals, running errands, helping bathe their care-recipient, give them medication, and maintain their medical equipment. But doing so, day in, day out, puts a strain on your mental and physical health. As we noted above, when a caregiver doesn’t care for their emotional, mental, and physical well-being, the burden and demands can leave them emotionally and physically drained.
Additionally, there are some other factors at play here as well. Unreal expectations being the one. If your loved one is suffering from a chronic disease, like Parkinson’s, regardless of how much effort you put into caring for them, it is unlikely that their condition will improve. So not only do you have to manage the stress you’re under, but you should also manage your expectations.
Inability to understand your role well and to lose control over your finances and resources are more causes. When you step into the shoes of a caretaker, you have to balance this role with your other roles, like a spouse or a parent.
How can you deal with burnout and stress?
Now that we’ve explained what causes burnout, here are a few helpful strategies you can employ to prevent and treat caregiver burnout. Perhaps the first step you can take is to reach out for help, share your burdens. You are not alone. Your family and friends can help you out with everyday errands and medical tasks.
You can manage your expectations and accept that your loved one may not get better, despite your best efforts. You’d also want to establish a routine, where the day’s activities are planned. A routine will make decision-making easier, and your day less stressful. On a similar note, you can make adjustments to the daily routine as you see fit as their condition progresses.
Another aspect of being the sole caregiver is alienation. You may feel disconnected from people and loved ones around you because they cannot understand what you feel and go through every day. But you can connect to other caregivers like you by supporting a join group. A support group can help you navigate this difficult road, help you solve your problems, and provide you with much-needed appreciation and validation.
You can also seek emotional support from your friends and family. Emotional support aside, you should also keep a close eye on your physical health. Irregular sleep patterns can lead to health issues, so try and get a good night’s sleep. And if you have trouble getting it, talk to your healthcare professional. Speaking of which, tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver so that you can get recommended screenings.
If all else fails, you can take a respite. You can let someone else take care of your loved one for a while and take a break. You can hire an in-home healthcare aide or you can consider short-term nursing facilities. If the budget is a restraint, you can look for volunteers or ask your family or relatives. A break can be invaluable because as a caregiver, you don’t often get a chance to take time for yourself or relax. Don’t withdraw from the activities you enjoy. The same goes for people in your life and your relationships.
Caregiving can be rewarding, but it’s not an easy job. You have a limited amount of energy and if you don’t replenish it, you’ll burn out. When you’re close to burning out or stressed, recognizing the symptoms of caregiver burnout can help you prevent it. If you do feel burned out, you’re not alone in this struggle. There is help and support available if you seek it.