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Signs of Caregiver Burnout and How to Prevent It

Caregiver Burnout

Out of love, out of obligation, maybe out of a sense of just doing what’s right, you are one of more than 65 million adults in North America taking care of an elderly, chronically ill or disabled loved one. Family caretakers average 20 hours of unpaid in-home care per week. 87 percent of them are not getting enough sleep.

Sound familiar?

You’re on the road to caregiver burnout. It’s not taken lightly by psychologists—who define it as “a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress”—and should not be taken lightly by you. By the time most caregivers suspect signs of burnout, they’re already suffering a myriad of ailments.

They may be coping not only with a loved one’s illness but with financial pressures, changes in family dynamics and a general disruption in family life. All together, it’s a recipe for caregiver burnout that would negatively affect anyone’s ability to provide good care. That kind of stress can also place the caregiver’s health at risk. 

It’s up to you manage your stress levels and protect yourself from burning the candle at both ends.

14 Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout

  • Lack of energy
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Changes in eating habits; weight loss or gain
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed
  • Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
  • Feeling like caregiving is controlling your life
  • Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative—with the person you’re caring for and/or with others
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Difficulty coping with everyday things
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical problems
  • Lowered resistance to illness

Caregiver Burnout Prevention

  • Now that you know what to look for, here are some tips to help you pre-empt caregiver burnout.
  • Ask for help! Needing help doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. It simply means you can’t do it alone (no one can do it alone).
  • Give yourself permission to take breaks. Get out of the house. Visit with friends. Pamper yourself with a massage. Take a long bath.
  • Take care of yourself.  Don’t skip your own doctor’s appointments because you’re too busy. Exercise; eat well; don’t sacrifice sleep.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier and use the time just for you. Sit with your coffee or tea and enjoy it. Journal about your struggles and feelings. Meditate, pray, stretch. . . . Do whatever you want to do.
  • Make a list of your daily activities and tasks. See if you can delegate any of it. Maybe your spouse can make dinner twice or week. Perhaps a friend or relative can run errands or help with laundry. People often want to help—take them up on it!
  • Check into family-leave benefits from your place of work. It could take a huge weight off your shoulders by giving you more hours in your day.
  • If your loved one is receiving hospice care, ask your hospice provider about local emotional support groups. Communicating with others who are in your situation helps immensely, as does opening up and sharing your frustrations—and your joys!
  • If an opportunity comes along for a brief getaway for you, consider hospice respite care for your loved one. Your hospice should offer short-term inpatient admission (meaning more than 24 hours and up to five days and nights maximum) to relieve family members or other persons caring for the patient at home.

There is support, there are short cuts, there is the reorganization of priorities that can make you a happier person and a better caregiver. Think of these steps as a fire extinguisher on caregiver burnout.

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