Recognizing caregiver burnout and what you can do about it
The mental, physical and financial burdens of caregiving create a high risk for caregiver burnout.
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion that can create negative and concerning mental states and attitudes. Burnout occurs when caregivers don’t get the help or support they need, and when the demands on a caregiver’s mind, body and emotions are overwhelming. Once a caregiver begins to feel the effects of burnout, it becomes difficult to care for themselves and their loved one.
Common signs of caregiver burnout:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
How can you avoid burnout?
How is it even possible to care for both yourself and for a loved one at the same time? Taking care of you is a full time, conscious, ongoing task. Taking care of a dependent older loved one takes added energy, time and commitment.
Being able to recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated or resentful is key.
The American Medical Association has developed a tool, The Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire, to help identify caregiver stress levels. Set aside a few minutes to take the Assessment and see where you fall on the stress scale.
Here are a few things you can do right now to help lower your stress and anxiety. These are simple, easy and manageable tasks.
- Turn on your favorite music. Music can have therapeutic effects on a range of mental and physical health conditions. Research suggests music has significant power to help reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain and improve focus.
- Get out for a walk. Exercise is a great destressor. Walking promotes the release of brain chemicals called endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve our mood. Being outdoors is an added plus. Being outside lowers your stress hormone (cortisol) and decreases your heart rate.
- Practice deep breathing. Breathing sends a message to our brain to calm down and relax. When we are stressed or anxious, our breathing tends to be irregular and shallow. Deep breathing (sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing) is a practice that enables more air to flow into our body and can help calm our nerves, reducing stress and anxiety. The 4-7-8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, also known as “relaxing breath,” involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Do these two or three times and you should notice a difference.
- Write it down. Journaling reduces stress by serving as an escape or emotional release for negative thoughts and feelings. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you gain control of your emotions, reduce stress, deflect anger and develop clarity. This is something personal; you don’t have to share it with anyone. You don’t need to worry about penmanship, grammar or which words you choose. Getting your thoughts down on paper and out of your head will free up your mind to think more clearly and rational about your situation.
There are no easy solutions or answers in caregiving. Caregiving is a balance between being respectful and doing what is necessary to care for your loved one and doing what is needed to respect your own needs as a caregiver and as an individual. Be ever-vigilant in monitoring your wants and needs as a caregiver.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,