After years, months, or even a few weeks of caring for a senior loved one, it is perfectly normal to feel worn down and tired.
Caregiver burnout can happen to anyone. When you put so much effort into caring for someone else, it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself. And before long, your mental, physical, and emotional health start to suffer.
While many caregivers experience burnout, there is no reason why you have to put up with these symptoms. If you notice any of the signs of caregiver burnout, it is important to take action and alleviate the problem right away. You deserve to be happy, so you should never feel guilty about taking care of yourself along with the others you care for.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout occurs when you are emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. While serving your loved ones in this way can be rewarding, it can still be an incredibly stressful experience. As a caregiver, you need to have a strong foundation in your time, finances, and emotions to do your job effectively.
There are millions of people caring for seniors who are either their friends or family members. These everyday heroes devote their time and well-being to caring for others. But sometimes, this devotion leads to negative physical and mental effects.
Almost 75% of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease caregivers are very concerned or somewhat concerned about their ability to maintain their own health. This concern is entirely realistic because more than one out of three dementia caregivers have suffered a decline in health since they began working in the role. Along with physical ailments, almost 60% of dementia caregivers also suffer from emotional stress, and nearly 40% struggle with depression.
Unfortunately, many caregivers feel uncomfortable or guilty about taking care of themselves. They often feel like they should focus all of their efforts on their loved ones.
Many people experience emotional and mental symptoms like stress, depression, irritability, fatigue, hopelessness, and anxiety. You may become withdrawn from your family and loved ones.
Many caregivers experience physical symptoms like changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and weight. They may become sick more often or lose interest in hobbies they once loved. In extreme cases, the individual may even feel like they want to hurt themselves or the patient.
Caregiver burnout symptoms can happen for a number of reasons. While some burnout cases are unavoidable and caused by the nature of the job, other factors can be avoided.
For example, many caregivers are frustrated because they have little control over the situation. Perhaps they don’t have the financial ability or resources to create an effective plan for their loved one’s care. For example, a daughter or son may feel they are unable to afford a weekend caregiver, which means they have to be responsible each day.
Along with a lack of control, caregivers may be unrealistic about what they are doing. They may feel like it is their job to make the patient happy and healthy, but this isn’t always possible to do alone. For progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and palliative care, a full return to health may be unrealistic.
Sometimes, caregivers are confused about their role as they may struggle to separate their time as a friend or spouse from their role as a caregiver. Likewise, many caregivers face unreasonable demands from the patient and their family members.
Because of all of these factors, it is very common for a caregiver to experience some level of caregiver stress and burnout. Once you realize you are suffering from burnout, the next step is finding ways to alleviate it.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout to Watch for
Are you anxious or stressed out? You may be running low on steam in your current role. The following are the most common signs of caregiver burnout.
1. Anxiety or Depression
During the first six months of 2019, 8.2% of American adults suffered from anxiety disorders. A total of 6.6% experienced depression. Among adult caregivers, both of these disorders are extremely common.
If you are struggling from day to day, you may find yourself experiencing caregiver burnout symptoms of anxiety. You may have problems concentrating, suffer from racing thoughts, or deal with excessive worries. Anxiety can also cause palpitations, trembling, and feelings of impending doom.
Meanwhile, depression can make it feel like you can’t get out of bed. You may no longer care about things, people, or hobbies you once loved. If you are depressed, you may also suffer from apathy, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness, or guilt.
2. Trouble Sleeping
When you are stressed out, it can be hard to fall asleep at night. As a caregiver, sleep troubles are one of the most common burnout symptoms.
You may find yourself sleeping too much or too little. At night, you may toss and turn for hours before you fall asleep. Then, you may wake up hours early or sleep through your alarm.
3. Feeling Withdrawn From Loved Ones
When you are depressed or suffering from extreme stress, you don’t feel excited about the things and people you once cared about. If you are experiencing caregiver burnout, you may become withdrawn from your loved ones.
You may see your family, friends, and colleagues less often than you used to, creating feelings of loneliness and isolation.
4. Physical and Emotional Exhaustion
Caring for another human being is a task that takes a great deal of energy, but there is a difference between being tired and being completely drained. When you are burned out, your emotions are frazzled. You may feel overwhelmed, apathetic, or unable to cope with day-to-day life.
Being a caregiver can take its toll on your body. If you put your loved one’s or patient’s needs in front of your own, you may suffer from worsening health and chronic illnesses.
5. Changes in Weight or Appetite
All of these signs of burnout as a caregiver can lead to weight and appetite changes. Some people use food or exercise to cope with extreme emotions. Because of these types of changes, you may eat significantly more or less food than you once did.
Unfortunately, extreme stress and caregiver burnout can worsen substance abuse disorders. Even if you never had a problem before, you may use alcohol or drugs to cope with negative emotions and difficult situations. Over time, substance abuse can lead to an addiction, so it is important to get help right away if you notice an issue.
6. Feeling Added Stress
As a caregiver, you may feel more stress. You have to care for another human life, and this responsibility can be overwhelming. Depending on your role, you may have to take care of the individual’s activities of daily living, personal care requirements, medical needs, financial matters, and companionship needs.
7. Becoming Sick More Often
Your body wasn’t designed to be in a state of constant stress all the time. If you are working yourself too hard, you may get sick more often than before. Stress weakens the immune system over time, so the best thing you can do for your health is to alleviate the pressure and tension you’re feeling throughout the day.
8. Wanting to Hurt Yourself or Others
Sometimes, caregivers feel like they have no outlet for their stress, anxiety, and frustration. This may make them feel like they want to hurt themselves. Additionally, they may feel guilty for not doing enough to help their loved one or patient.
After a difficult day, some caregivers may also have dark thoughts about hurting the patient. They may be frustrated after handling the patient’s needs alone, and a part of their mind wishes the patient felt the same pain.
Alzheimer’s disease and progressive disorders don’t improve over time, which can make this situation even more challenging to bear. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, it is vital to seek professional assistance. You don’t have to deal with these signs of burnout alone.
What to Do About Caregiver Burnout
Once you realize you have a problem and are struggling, the next step is determining what can be done about caregiver burnout. In some cases, the solution may be as simple as getting an in-home caregiver to help out from time to time. At the very least, you can talk to a medical professional about some of the symptoms you are experiencing.
Talk to Someone
Sometimes, the biggest issue is with how alone, worried, and stressed out being a caregiver makes you feel. It is natural to feel emotions like grief or frustration when you are serving as a caregiver for someone you love.
You don’t have to talk to a medical professional, but it is helpful to talk to someone. Find a friend, family member, or loved one you trust. Whenever you are feeling stressed out or simply need a listening ear, talk to them.
Ask Friends and Family for Help
Taking care of another human being is an enormous responsibility no matter how young or old they are, so it isn’t surprising you may feel exhausted. If you are finding it difficult to do everything yourself, reach out to friends and family members. People who are close to you can lend a hand by running errands, taking care of the patient, helping with chores, and doing other important tasks.
Consider Respite Care
You deserve to be a happy, healthy individual. Respite care was designed for family members who are taking care of someone.
With respite care, your loved one can be cared for temporarily by a professional who is trained to handle their needs. Respite care is a way to plan a break ahead of time, and it can also be used for emergency situations. Along with getting temporary relief, you can also find respite care options like adult daycare centers.
Hire In-Home Caregivers
Many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia become anxious or confused in new situations, which may make putting them into a nursing home or assisted living facility challenging. For these cases, you may want to try an in-home caregiver.
An in-home care provider can come to your home for a couple of hours once a week or every single day. The frequency and duration of their visits are entirely up to you. Likewise, you can find a caregiver who handles various needs such as:
Get Some Stress Relief
Stress can have devastating consequences for your physical health. It can also increase the likelihood of developing conditions like depression and anxiety.
While you may not be able to remove the cause of your stress, you may be able to reduce your overall stress levels. Activities like meditation, taking walks, exercising, and enjoying a favorite hobby can help you relax.
Set Achievable Goals
When you care about someone, you naturally want them to be healthy and happy.
You can try reaching out to organizations and support groups designed for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. With the help of these organizations, you can identify which goals are realistic. Unrealistic goals set you up for failure and stress, so it is important to create achievable objectives.
Get Professional Help
Many caregivers ignore their own needs in order to help their loved ones. If you have ignored the signs of caregiver burnout for an extended period of time, it may be harder to get your physical, emotional, and mental health back on track. If this happens, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for support.
Often, professional medical providers and therapists can help you find resources and ways to alleviate the pressure. They can help you diagnose conditions and may be able to offer advice. If you are suffering from depression, grief, anxiety, or other mental conditions, seek professional help so you can create and maintain your own happiness.
Dealing With Caregiver Burnout
After noticing the signs of caregiver burnout, the next step is determining what you should do about it. If you feel like you want to hurt yourself or someone else, you should seek medical care right away. You should also talk to your doctor about any physical symptoms you are dealing with because of caregiver stress and burnout.
Whether you want to prevent caregiver burnout or alleviate stress, an in-home caregiver can help. With the support of another caregiver, you can take care of your own physical and mental well-being.