For many who take on the role of caregiver, whether as a career or for a family member or friend, the daily challenge of providing support and your undivided attention for the aged, infirm, or disabled can lead to the caregiver’s own stress and fatigue. According to the CDC, over 53% of surveyed caregivers reported a decline in their own health which affected their ability to be a caregiver, while more than half also reported not having enough time to care for themselves or being too tired to do so. These adverse results are commonly referred to as “caregiver burnout” and can lead to negative consequences for both the caregiver and the individual being cared for.
What is Caregiver Burnout and What Causes It?
Caregiver burnout is categorized as a state of exhaustion, physical, mental, or emotional, as a result of continuously caring for another person. Because caregivers spend their time caring for others and put the well-being and comfort of their charges above all else, caregivers can neglect their own needs and end up in an overwhelmed state of fatigue, anxiety, or irritability. The causes of caregiver burnout vary but are often the result of unreasonable demands or expectations, whether self-imposed or placed by family members or the individual being cared for. Other factors contributing to burnout include suddenly and unexpectedly being thrust into the role of caring for an ill or disabled person, lack of sufficient sleep or breaks from working, and taking on too many responsibilities when they can be delegated to others.
Those with already high-strung or overachieving personalities and those caring for an individual with cognitive or progressive diseases like ALS, dementia, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s may experience amplified levels of stress associated with lack of control and frustration.
Symptoms and Signs of Caregiver Burnout
How do you know if you’re “burnt out”? There are inherent challenges in caring for others that cause stress and, if not dealt with properly, these will lead to a complete burnout. You may be suffering from extreme stress and at high risk for caregiver burnout if:
- You are unusually irritable and “snappy” or have atypical, inexplicable mood swings
- You feel irrationally angry or even violent toward the person for whom you are caring
- You experience feelings of sadness, helplessness, and depression
- You find yourself getting sick more often than usual
- You are excessively using alcohol or other substances to “unwind”
- You have a hard time falling or staying asleep
- You experience changes in appetite, weight, or your appearance (i.e. hair falling out, paleness)
- You find yourself unmotivated or uninterested in daily activities
- You withdraw socially and cannot relax even when you’re “off the clock”
If you are experiencing these symptoms, caring for another person becomes detrimental to them, and to yourself.
How to Handle Caregiver Stress and Prevent Burnout
It’s normal to feel stressed and bereaved when a loved one falls ill or is unable to care for him or herself any longer. Dealing with that stress in a healthy way, by exercising or talking to friends or a therapist, will go a long way to keeping you well enough to continue caring for your loved one. If your loved one is suffering from a specific illness or disease, get educated and talk to their doctor about setting realistic expectations and goals in how you can provide for them and how well they can progress. If you have other family members who are also able to provide physically, emotionally, or financially, talk to them and plan a fair division of labor. Seek professional help in the form of respite care or home health aides who can work part-time to give you a break. Explore adult day care so you can not only give your loved one an opportunity to socialize, but also allow yourself time to pursue your own needs. Remember that in order to care for another, you must first take care of yourself!
NOTE: Here at Abcor, we take caregiver burnout very seriously. As such, we are constantly checking in with caregivers to ensure the proper care of our clients.