Being a caregiver is a very important job that requires a lot of skill, effort, and time. Sometimes, spending that much energy on someone else’s needs can cause you to neglect your own needs, both emotional and physical. Caregiver burnout is real – and common – and it is dangerous to ignore the symptoms.
Symptoms of caregiver burnout vary and are very similar to symptoms of depression, including feelings of stress, sadness, and guilt. If ignored, caregiver burnout can become clinical anxiety or depression. You should always seek help from a medical professional if you have reached a point where you feel unable to cope with your symptoms.
Some of the more common symptoms of caregiver burnout are:
- Feeling overly stressed, overwhelmed
- Extreme fatigue; feeling emotionally and/or physically exhausted
- Feeling sad, helpless, or hopeless
- Feelings of extreme guilt
- Irritability; episodes of lashing out, rage
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Changes in appetite; rapid weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Lowered immune system
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or of hurting others, such as the person for whom you are caring
- Abuse of alcohol and/or medications
Caregiver burnout can happen for a number of different reasons. Some of the more common reasons are role confusion, unrealistic expectations, and being overwhelmed by the daily frustrations that come with being a caregiver. While it is important to know where caregiver burnout can possibly come from, it is just as important to recognize that it can happen at any time for any other reason as well.
When caring for a loved one, sometimes it is hard for the caregiver to distinguish their role as caregiver from the original role that they played with the person for whom they are caring. If the caregiver started out as a spouse, a child, a close friend, or other intimate relationship, it can be very difficult to rework the patterns of their relationship with their loved one. As caregiver, they have to respond differently than they used to, and sometimes this is overwhelming and hard to understand.
Often times, caregivers jump into the responsibility of looking after someone else with unrealistic expectations. In the beginning, the caregiver may not fully understand how difficult the job is. Being a caregiver can be emotionally and physically draining. Though it is a rewarding and worthwhile job overall, it can sometimes feel like a thankless job. The caregiver gives a lot of him or herself–time, skills, emotional support–and they do not always see the return. Some beginning caregivers quickly become overwhelmed and feel like they have bitten off more than they can chew.
Overwhelmed by Daily Frustrations
Being a caregiver requires resources, knowledge, money, and planning. Sometimes, the daily frustrations that come with these details can grow into something much bigger. The loss of funds or the lack of time to learn new skills can cause stress and anxious feelings. A lack of money and the proper resources can make a caregiver feel stretched too thin and inadequately suited for the job.
Prevention and Healing
If you are just starting to experience caregiver burnout, there are things that you can do to help ease the symptoms or to prevent burnout entirely.
Take some time for yourself every day. Set aside just a few minutes for you and only you, perhaps in the morning before work or in the evening before you go to bed. Listen to music, read a book, meditate. Do whatever you need to do in order to soothe your soul and feel present. You cannot take care of others unless you are healthy yourself. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercise, and get enough sleep. Your body is your tool, and you need to keep it in working order.
Talk It Out
If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, find someone to talk to. Open up to a friend, a family member, or find someone in an online support group. Seek out professionals such as a therapist, a social worker, or a clergy member. Never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. There are plenty of other people who care about you. These people are ready and willing to help you take care of yourself while you are busy taking care of someone else. Caregivers need caregivers, too.
Set realistic goals and accept help when you need it. Be realistic about the health of the person for whom you are caring. Accept the reality of their symptoms and their medical needs. Know your limits, both physically and emotionally, and take a few steps back and ask for help when you have reached those limits. Know that it is always alright to take a break. Accept your feelings as real and normal. Feelings of frustration, confusion, and anger are all common emotions that caregivers experience, and it is ok to have those feelings.
Consider Your Options
If you are feeling very overwhelmed, it is always possible that the person you are caring for needs more than you can give them. If you recognize that you are in a situation that you cannot handle any longer, it is ok to seek out other options, such as an assisted living community or a home health aide. Check our Home Care vs. Assisted Living Case Study. You can also contact organizations such as AARP or the Family Caregiver Alliance and talk to someone about your options. You always have options.
If caregiver burnout has turned into something more serious like clinical depression or anxiety, seek out a medical professional immediately. If you do not already have a therapist, call your general practitioner and ask for a referral for a therapist. You are not alone.