Caregiver Burnout-Are You At Risk?

candle burning. Caregiver burnout

If you provide care for an elderly loved one, then you are at risk for caregiver burnout. The act of caregiving for another person full-time can take a huge emotional, mental, and physical toll on providers, and no one is automatically immune. 

If you are wondering if what you are feeling is normal stress or the beginnings of a full-blown burnout, you should learn the signs and take action. 

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Focus on negative emotions
  • Anger and irritability 
  • Apathy
  • Lack of focus
  • Poor judgement
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Nervous eating or other habits
  • Unusual weight gain or loss
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Caregivers that are beginning to burn out may also: 

  • Begin tasks with enthusiasm, only to abandon them before completion
  • Have difficulty following a usual routine
  • Overreact to small problems
  • Avoid socialization or show poor socialization skills
  • Begin to obsess about their own death or health
  • Ignore their own health/grooming/family/etc. 
  • Become overly impulsive (shopping, eating, etc.)

Even though caregivers are doing their absolute best to promote health and well-being in another person, they tend to ignore their own needs. Its important to know the signs, because it doesn't take long for burnout to manifest itself...

Timeline for Burnout

How soon can a caregiver expect to experience a burnout? That depends on your own personal circumstances. The amount of care you are providing plays a big role in how soon you begin to feel the stress. 

On average though, caregivers can experience the beginnings of burnout in less than two years. That is a relatively short time when you consider that you may be playing this role for 5 or more years. 

The impact is phenomenal. While you may be adding years to your loved one's life, the act of caregiving may actually be shortening your life by 2-8 years. 

That is why it is important for caregivers to monitor themselves closely, and admit when they need to seek help. 

How Caregivers Can Help Themselves

It can never be said too much: 

Caregivers need to take care of themselves first. 

Here are some ways that you can help avoid burnout, or lessen the effects once it has begun: 

  • Eat correctly (even if it isn't perfectly healthy, don't skip meals. Not eating can lead to low blood sugar, which can aggravate feelings of apathy and stress.) 

  • Get outside--Even if its for five minutes a day. 

  • Seek help--respite care, a home aide, a friend...occasionally you need a break.

  • Seek support--try an online support group, or ask your doctor about local programs. 

  • Learn to say no--to unreasonable demands from your elder and from others. 

  • Loosen your schedule--Prioritize the tasks you do. 

  • Find a form of relaxation--a hot bath, a cup of hot chocolate, meditation, music...anything that can calm your  nerves for a few minutes a day. 

  • Find a hobby--that is low stress. Look for something you can do easily. Portable hobbies such as crochet are excellent. 

  • Spend time with other loved ones--Don't put your spouse, kids, siblings or friends on the back burner all the time. They are your support group. 

  • Journal--on paper or online, a journal is a great way to vent, work through problems, and jot down memories. 

You Have a Choice

As long as you know what to watch for, then you can avoid burnout. It can be hard for a caregiver to admit that they are having difficulties. Everyone wants to juggle multiple responsibilities with a smile. 

That is not always possible, and pretending that things are fine when they aren't can be devastating to everyone involved. Make a choice to help yourself, your loved one, and your family. 

Watch for the signs, admit when you need help, seek support, and take some time to relax and rethink things.