By Lauren Hill
As a caregiver, you spend considerable time and energy determining and meeting the needs of the person you are caring for, but all too often, you neglect to devote the same attention to your own needs. When this happens you are likely to suffer from caregiver burnout. Without considering your own needs, you’ll often find that you have a harder time coping with stress and you begin to suffer physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Why Caregiver Burnout Happens
Whether you are providing care for a parent, a spouse, or a child, you are still at risk for caregiver burnout. Burnout isn’t the result of one major catastrophe, but is a result of the accumulation of stress, circumstances, and your experiences as a caregiver. Even though you love the person you are caring for, the round-the-clock demands, both physically and emotionally, can have quite an impact on your body.
If you are a caregiver, you should learn to recognize the signs of caregiver burnout so that you can get the help you need in order to improve your own health and continue to provide quality care. It is important that you realize that caring for yourself allows you to develop the strength that you need to provide the care that your loved one needs.
1. Lack of Concentration
This early warning sign may take the form of forgetfulness or difficulty focusing on everyday tasks. You may begin to miss appointments, forget where you are going, or wonder why you’ve gone down to the basement. Another direction this warning sign could take is forgetting how to do simple tasks which you have completely repeatedly without trouble.
2. Difficulty Sleeping and Changes in Your Appetite
Don’t ignore the warning sign of sleeplessness. A change in your sleeping habits may be a very easy way to notice that something is causing you stress. Whether the change is that you can’t get to sleep or that you are having difficulty staying asleep, this is a sign that you are experiencing burnout. If this situation sounds familiar, then you should be particularly alert to the presence of other warning signs.
Be aware of your eating habits. If you don’t notice that you are skipping meals or suddenly gaining weight, hopefully you have friends who can alert you to this situation. You might want to track your eating habits if you have begun to notice some changes.
3. Withdrawal from People and Activities
Another important sign that you are suffering from caregiver burnout is that the friends and activities which you once enjoyed, no longer appeal to you. If you can’t remember the last time you went out with your friends or if you just don’t have the energy to go out with friends, then you should consider carefully the possibility that you have not taken care of yourself as you need. When you don’t feel the same sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that your hobbies and activities once gave you, it is time to talk to someone who can help.
4. Feelings of Anger, Frustration, Hopelessness, or Loss of Control
At first you may find yourself snapping at others or getting annoyed at things that once didn’t bother you. Your feelings of hopelessness or depression should be given the credit they deserve. You will only truly be able to care for your loved one if you are also caring for yourself. You may feel angry toward the person you are providing care for or begin to neglect that person. Eventually you might find that you are handling your loved one with roughness or even hurting them.
5. Weakened Immunity
One common symptom of carrying too much stress is a weakened immune system. If you are catching every bug that comes around, if you get sick more than you used to and if you stay sick longer than you used to, these are signs that you are already experiencing burnout or are on your way to burnout.
6. Excessive Use of Alcohol or Drugs
This is a serious symptom of caregiver burnout and will have destructive consequences for both you and the person you are caring for. Before you beginning drinking or taking too many sleeping pills to get through the night, take some time to really think about your current lifestyle. There are many more healthy ways to reduce your stress and avoid burnout than turning to drinking or drugs.
Tips to Prevent or Ease Caregiver Burnout
- Remind yourself that you are human and give yourself permission to make mistakes.
- Stay up-to-date on your preventative medical, dental, and other health exams.
- Visit with your doctor when you feel that you are getting sick.
- Pay attention to your diet and make sure that you are getting the nutrition that you need.
- Try to get seven or more hours of sleep each night.
- Find a friend or support group where you can share your frustrations and struggles. Sometimes just talking about the situation will relieve some of the stress you are experiencing.
- Create a schedule that allows you to complete the things of priority to you.
- Make time to exercise. Consistent exercise can alleviate a lot of the symptoms of stress and the endorphins from exercising can help to lift your mood.
- Schedule time out with friends or some quiet time for yourself.
- Ask for help when you need it. It isn’t a sign of weakness to care for your needs. When the demands of being a caregiver become too much for one person, reach out to your friends, family, church, or a professional to help you cope.
As a caregiver you spend a lot of time trying to anticipate and meet the needs of your loved one. In order to provide consistent, loving care, it is critical that you devote the same attention to your own needs. As you address your own feelings of stress or frustration, you will be better prepared to deal with the emotional and physical demands of your loved one.
As soon as you begin to experience the warning signs of caregiver burnout, you should take steps to remedy your own situation. Allow yourself to take a step back in order to determine the best route to your own healthy recovery.
About The Author
Lauren Hill has watched her parents age as the served as caregivers. She is passionate about the topic of caregiving and hopes her research and writing will give others hope in this new stage of life. Lauren is a contributing writer for LiftCaregiving.