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Caregiver Burnout 101: Causes, Signs, Prevention and Solution Tips

Caring for a loved one who needs short-term assistance after a surgery or a serious illness can take its toll on families and especially full-time caregivers. However, those who find themselves facing a long-term caregiving situation can often find the demands to be overwhelming, and caregiver burnout is far more common than one might think. Before the stress takes over your health and mindset and leads to burnout, explore these causes, signs and steps for prevention and resolution.

The Culmination of Caregiver Burnout

In this situation, you could compare your body to an appliance, in which the motor doesn't burnout on day one. However, the stress of daily use wears it down gradually until it burns out. This is exactly how caregiver burnout begins—with caregiver stress. Those with long-term duties are most likely to experience stressors related to caregiving, as it can be as challenging as it is rewarding. It's essential to recognize the symptoms of caregiver stress to prevent reaching the point of burnout, and signs of these stressors include:

  • Feelings of irritability, resentment or a tendency to overact to minor aggravations.
  • Anxiety, trouble concentrating and difficulty sleeping.
  • Depression and lethargic behavior due to feeling tired and worn down.
  • A surge in new health issues or the worsening of existing ones.
  • The urge to sometimes neglect caregiver responsibilities.
  • A lack of interest in hobbies and leisure activities.
  • The tendency to consume food, nicotine or alcohol excessively.

If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, there is still time to get the physical and emotional support that you need before transitioning to the burnout phase. Once you regain your balance and ease the stress, you'll be better situated to be a prime caregiver again.

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

Those who have surpassed the level of caregiver stress without taking preventive or curative action often end up burning out and becoming less effective caretakers. Here are some signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout.

  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and that there's no end in sight.
  • A constant sense of feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, even after resting periods.
  • Self-neglect due to being busy or for lack of interest.
  • The inability to relax and unwind, even when someone else is handling the caregiving duties for a while.
  • You become increasingly irritable and impatient with the individual under your care.
  • While your life revolves around caregiving, but you find no joy or satisfaction in doing it anymore.
  • You seem to have low immunity and catch colds frequently.

These are just a few indications that a burnout has occurred or that one is imminent. Check out this comprehensive caregiver burnout checklist and assessment here [pdf], or take a look at our Senior Living Library for additional resources.

Preventing Caregiver Stress and Burnout

As a caregiver, you might not have a lot of spare time to spend taking care of your own needs and desires. However, it's essential that you make the time in order to prevent the downward spiral towards caregiver stress or burnout. Prevention is the key to maintaining your personal wellness while remaining an effective caregiver. Here are four tips to help you achieve both goals.

  1. Be Mindful of Your Health — While you may be caring for someone with failing health, this is no time to neglect your own. Be sure to keep doctors appointments and fuel your body with healthy foods. Take time for moderate exercise, get ample sleep and take adequate quiet time for relaxation or meditation to re-center yourself each day.
  2. Take a Time Out — Time out's aren't just for youngsters, as we adults often require them too! One of the most challenging aspects of being a full-time caregiver is finding the time pamper yourself, especially when you must remain in the home at all times. When your ‘patient' sleeps, take a few minutes to read, take a short bath or tend to personal grooming that may have been recently neglected. You'll feel better, and it will boost your spirits.
  3. Maintain Personal Relationships — It's all too easy to let your personal friendships slide under the rug when you're occupied by caring for another. However, these contacts play a vital support role and can help you feel more connected with the outside world. If you cannot leave home, invite some friends over for a quiet gathering when possible.
  4. Get Outdoors — There will be times when you need a break from the confines of your caretaker hub, so don't hesitate to seek out a temporary replacement for a few hours so that you can get out of the house. The great outdoors and getting moving beyond your usual space can be rejuvenating and restorative.

If you've gone beyond the stress stage and prevention methods aren't enough to get you back in the groove of care taking, check out these solutions.

Solutions for Caregiver Burnout

Being steadfast in following preventive measures is the best way to prevent burn out. Also, prevention techniques are a great way to help alleviate the pressure once the flames have erupted and turned to embers. Here are some ways to further reduce symptoms of caregiver burnout:

Focus on What You Can Control — While we cannot magically make our loved one heal or show signs of getting better, you can feel empowered by what you can control. Understand and appreciate yourself for your efforts, and be mindful in the ways in which you react on those ‘bad days.'

Rejoice in Small Victories — Having a ‘good day' with your loved one? Let these small victories bring you encouragement while knowing that what you are doing is making a remarkable difference in your loved one's life as you allow their wishes to remain at home as long as possible to be met.

Get Support Immediately — Talking to a friend or family member may be helpful, but often that's not enough to help you bounce back from a burnout, especially if it's triggered by depression or feelings of helplessness. Ask for the help you need, which is typically a few days off from your responsibilities. Speak up to other relatives who can help, or discuss options such as adult day care centers, hospice assistance or part-time nursing homes to sub in for your care taker duties for a short while.

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