Caregiver burnout is more common than you might think. As the industry evolves and as people live for longer, people can become more burnt out as a result. Caregiver burnout can be defined as the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that occurs from taking care of someone. However, everyone may respond differently to the caregiving load that they have.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is Caregiver Burnout?
- The Reasons for Caregiver Burnout
- How to Cope With Caregiver Burnout
- How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
- How to Help a Loved One With Caregiver Burnout
Just because you may not have as many caregiving duties as someone else you know, that doesn’t mean that you won’t experience burnout. People have different circumstances with their families, work responsibilities, and tolerance levels. In other words, burnout can happen to anyone.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
As a caregiver, you know all too well how the stress and strain can start to mount. Often, this occurs without you even realizing how serious it has become. After all, this is the job of taking care of someone you care for and about.
While some of these symptoms may sound unfamiliar, you may recognize some of these in yourself.
- Irritability or anger
- Poor sleep or chronic insomnia
- Changes in appetite or weight loss
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Depression and anxiety
- Loss of pleasure in formerly enjoyed activities
- Excessive alcohol or drug use
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Becoming sick more often
The Reasons for Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout is one of those slippery slopes where things are manageable to start but then get to a point of profound exhaustion. It might feel originally just like one long day, until those days increase, often back-to-back at an unyielding pace. Again as mentioned above, some of these reasons may seem unfamiliar but they can be something you have dealt with or have heard others experience as well.
- Taking on too much responsibility. This means not asking for or knowing where to look for help. You may know best how to care for your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for support.
- Lack of training. Caregivers are often expected to perform more and more complex medical tasks. They often have little or no training.
- Demands of the job. Caregiver duties become too much or very difficult to perform. This may include having to lift or transfer someone without anyone else to help. Or, the person you are taking care of requires care throughout the day and the demands are too much for you to handle.
- Other demands. Family caregivers have other responsibilities too. This includes other children at home, spouses, and work.
- Lack of privacy and autonomy. The full-time job of caregiving can leave someone feeling like they have no life of their own. There is no time or space at the end of the day for you. Between caregiving, and managing other aspects of your life, the day ends without a moment when you can be alone.
Caregiver burnout can be managed with a focused and committed effort to take care of yourself. Here are our tips on how to stay healthy and in control. The earlier you can assess and respond to caregiver burnout, the better, but regardless of where you are, it is never too late to feel better.
How to Cope With Caregiver Burnout
Coping with caregiver burnout takes commitment and practice. Along with your job as a caregiver and all of the other responsibilities you have, your other job is taking care of yourself. It is easier to begin the caregiver journey by incorporating these suggestions so that they become a habit. However, if you already find yourself burned out, it is never too late to start the process of self-care.
1. Take care of your health
It’s important to engage in self-care in order to be a better caregiver. Consider eating a well-balanced diet and staying hydrated. Here are a few other tips as well:
- Use good sleep hygiene techniques such as eliminating electronics in the bedroom. Make sure the room is dark and noise-free.
- If you feel sick, see your healthcare provider.
- Keep up on preventative healthcare such as your flu shot, mammogram, colonoscopy, and any other recommended testing.
- Watch your intake of alcohol and/or prescription drugs.
2. Ask for help
There is usually one family caregiver that takes on most of the responsibility. Consider asking another family member to assume a few caregiving duties to give you a break. Think about hiring in-home help through a home care agency. Even a couple of hours a day can make a big difference.
Hire out things like house cleaning, yard care, and even shop for groceries online-services that can buy you some valuable time and save energy.
3. Join caregiver support groups
There are lots of caregiver support groups online. They offer support, tips, and a chance to talk to people in similar situations.
Connecting with others will help you to feel less isolated and lonely. Online videos give specific caregiving instructions on how to safely perform medical tasks.
4. Talk to someone
Start by talking to a trusted friend or family member. You might be reluctant because you feel like you are a burden, but most people are happy to listen and offer support.
If you feel like you may be suffering from depression or anxiety, a therapist can help. Most therapists offer teletherapy services so you don’t have to leave your house. Ask for recommendations from your doctor or friends.
5. Look for respite services
Respite services include Adult Day Care where your loved one can go for the day for activities and meals. Depending on where you live and what resources may be available, you might be able to find respite through your Area Agency on Aging.
Other respite options include a few days in a furnished room in an assisted living community. Call your local assisted living to find out about this possibility. Most will let your family member stay for up to two weeks. This is also a good way to try out the future option of assisted living.
6. Set limits for yourself
This is a tough one, but necessary. The fact is, you can’t do it all, or if you are, then you need a break! Decide each day what is reasonable for you to tackle and what you can delegate or leave for another day.
Each day, also decide what you can do for yourself. It might be something small like doing a few minutes of stretching or yoga. Perhaps taking a few minutes to call a friend if for nothing else, to vent a bit.
Set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself of the goals you have set. It is easy to let the day slip away without taking the time that you have set aside for yourself.
7. Educate yourself
Caregivers take care of people with a variety of illnesses and disabilities. Educating yourself about these conditions can be very helpful. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association has information about the different dementias, signs and symptoms, and behavioral management techniques.
If your loved one has heart disease, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, or any number of other disorders, there are national organizations that can help. They can recommend caregiver support groups, give symptom management information, and guide you to local affiliates.
Books on caregiving talk about everything from coping to planning. They can be valuable resources to refer to on your own time.
Join Cake's monthly newsletter.
Learn all you need to know about end-of-life.
8. Look for ways to cope
Coping techniques help you feel in control of your time and have the added benefit of relieving stress. Some suggestions:
- Meditation. Meditation is simply mindful deep breathing. The great part- it can be done in just a few minutes. Look online for instructions on how to get started. Even deep breathing can calm your nerves and reduce stress.
- Yoga. Many people are intimidated by yoga. Yoga is something you can make your own by adapting the poses to suit your comfort level. Look for books and online free tutorials. Just a few minutes a day can relieve stress and burn out.
- Laugh. Whatever makes you laugh, do it! From movies to jokes to TV shows, laughter relieves stress.
- Music. Music can help to keep your spirits up. It might even help your loved one too.
- A positive attitude. Making positive statements or affirmations works to keep you energized and hopeful. Find or think of affirmations to help get you through the day. Repeat them to yourself when your spirits and confidence start to sink.
9. Accept your feelings
Your feelings are valid, whatever they are. Feelings of shame, anger, and insecurity are real. Try not to punish yourself and instead, practice acceptance. Part of mindful meditation practice involves allowing thoughts and feelings to pass through you without judgment.
Express your feelings to others when appropriate, and remember that the act of expression can be a huge relief. You may find it helpful to write your feelings down by keeping a journal.
10. Consider other living arrangements
One of the hardest decisions a caregiver can make is to consider other living arrangements for their loved one. However, this may be necessary and if done with loving care and concern, senior care can be a benefit for the caregiver and family member.
At some point, the financial, physical, and emotional toll may exceed what you can afford to continue to provide. Some families consider assisted living as a viable alternative to in-home care.
Assisted living will assist with most aspects of care as long as someone is not too impaired to take care of. With your loved one being taken care of, you can step back and be a loving family member, rather than a caregiver. Memory care communities are good options for people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease who may have problems with wandering.
How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Avoiding caregiver burnout involves a proactive approach. As with anything worth pursuing, establishing consistent habits can carry you through tough times when it is easy to fall back into self-defeating and unhealthy behaviors.
11. Assess your stress level
One of the insidious things about caregiver stress is how it can sneak up on you before you know it. The demands of caregiving can increase over time, putting more and more pressure on you. One way to keep track of how you are going is to assess your stress level and evaluate your coping techniques. How have you been doing? Do you need to tighten things up if they are starting to get out of control?
12. Put supports in place early
One of the most effective ways to avoid caregiver burnout is to put supports in place early. If you have a family member close by, talk with them about how they can help. Even if you may not need their assistance currently, preparing them for the possibility can help set the stage later on.
Also, keep a list of the respite, housing, and personal care options you might need. That way, you aren’t scrambling to put these support services in place during times of stress.
13. Shore up your positive relationships
One of the first things to suffer during caregiving is friendships and social opportunities. There just isn’t the time. But your positive relationships, whether they are friends or family, are vital to your mental health.
Consider reaching out to people important to you and let them know your time is about to become limited but that you need their support. Establish some times to check in by phone or, if possible, get together in person.
14. Keep a journal
There are several benefits to keeping a journal. By writing down your experiences, thoughts, and frustrations, you can track your stress level. And expressing emotions is a healthy way to cope with stress. You can also jot down ideas or caregiving tips that you don’t want to forget.
15. Give yourself healthy reminders
The beauty of smartphones today is that they can be a valuable tool for reminders. You can schedule reminders that help you focus on what is important to you. Examples include being mindful, engaging in an activity that is of interest to you, exercising, taking a break, or laughing.
16. Don’t forget your goals
You don’t have a choice when caregiving comes calling. You could be in the middle of a successful career or about to embark on a new venture. Caregivers often have to break from work or reduce their hours to take care of a loved one.
Getting back in the job market or resuming the pursuit of something valuable to you could be challenging. To the extent that you can, focus on keeping your goals alive by putting supports in place that allow you to do so.
How to Help a Loved One With Caregiver Burnout
Almost everyone these days has a loved one who is a caregiver. It could be a sister, brother, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, partner, or spouse. They could be burned out and stressed, and you may not even realize it because they are so good at concealing their emotions. Most people don’t want to be a burden; therefore, they don’t ask for help when they need it most. There are ways you can help.
17. Make contact regularly
Schedule contact regularly by putting it in your calendar. By making consistent contact, you can provide emotional support and get more information about what is really going on. Conversations will give you clues about what kind of support your loved one needs.
18. Get your loved one out of the house
As a caregiver, it is difficult to get away. Doing so may require some respite care, and you can help coordinate that. But in many cases, your loved one is caught up in caregiving duties and needs time away but doesn’t do it. This is where you come in. Make specific suggestions such as going for a walk in the park or going out for coffee. The time commitment doesn’t have to be big to have a positive impact.
19. Deliver meals
Delivering meals to a caregiver is almost a cliché now, but it is still a tried and true way of supporting a loved one. The best approach is one that involves thinking carefully about what will be most appreciated. Something that they can quickly freeze for a future meal might be beneficial.
20. Pamper your loved one
If your loved one is your spouse or partner, you know what kind of pampering they need. Sometimes pampering isn’t just a spa treatment or professional massage, but the kindness and deeds you can offer that you know your loved one will appreciate. It could be something as simple as a home-cooked meal, a neck rub, or suggesting a movie to watch.
21. Offer to do homework
Caregiving is always changing due to the changing needs of the person being cared for. Little tasks and big tasks add up, and one way you can offer to help is to do investigating and research.
Your loved one might need help finding respite, living situations, insurance information, medication delivery services, durable medical equipment, or estate planning professionals. Offer to do homework and keep detailed notes on what you find out.
22. Run errands
Running routine errands can be incredibly time-consuming for a caregiver. Try to help out by suggesting that you’ll go grocery shopping, car maintenance, or picking up supplies. While you are at it, mow the lawn or wash the car. Look for things to do that will take the pressure off a loved one who is a caregiver and alleviate their stress.
If you want to give a gift to a loved one who is a caregiver, something practical might be more appreciated. Consider noise-canceling headphones, which are an excellent way for your loved one to listen to their favorite music, podcasts, or guided meditation.
How about a membership to Amazon Prime or Spotify or meal delivery service? Use your imagination to find gifts that help your loved one cope with caregiver burnout.
Caregiver Burnout is Not Inevitable
Life can be complicated to manage and the added stress of caregiving can tip you over the edge. Awareness is the first step to learning how to cope with caregiver burnout. It can feel hard to consider putting yourself first, and at times may seem counterintuitive.
However, if you do not take care of yourself, your ability to enjoy your life and your job will suffer. When you are able to curtail or manage your burnout, you can find ways to enjoy your job and peace of mind.