Coping With Caregiver Burnout
When you spend all of your time and energy caring for another person, it can be difficult to remember to also take care of yourself. Over time, you may start to have feelings of fatigue, anxiety, depression or anger as the burden of caring for a loved one becomes too much to handle. You may assume some of what you are feeling is just prolonged stress, but it actually has a name: caregiver burnout.
Learn more about how to identify and manage the symptoms of caregiver burnout and find resources for others in your situation.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a psychological condition characterized by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion in people who provide long-term care to others. Burnout can occur when caregivers give too much of themselves—physically, emotionally or financially—to a sick or elderly person who needs care.
Burnout can happen to anyone who cares for another person. As a caregiver, you can deal with a rollercoaster of emotions daily. You may find yourself feeling guilty, anxious, depressed and, especially, fatigued.
Caregiver burnout may appear to have similar symptoms to stress or depression, but burnout is a unique situation that should be addressed for what it is. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Withdrawal from loved ones and social situations
- Feeling anxious, hopeless, depressed or irritable
- Changes in appetite and eating patterns
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Alcohol and other substance abuse*
- Thoughts of suicide or hurting your loved one*
* If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should seek help from a mental health professional immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if you think you are at risk of hurting yourself or someone else.
What are the Causes?
Burnout can be caused by neglecting your own physical and emotional needs while in the role of caregiver. Failing to take time away from the job to decompress and relax can build up over time, ultimately leading to burnout.
Caregivers are at a higher risk of burnout when working with stroke survivors or people with severe cognitive impairments. Some other factors that contribute to burnout include role confusion, unrealistic demands and unreasonable personal expectations.
When you become a caregiver, sometimes it can be difficult to separate your role as caregiver from your role as the person’s child, spouse, relative or friend. Role confusion can make you feel like you owe the person you are caring for more of your time, energy and emotional commitments than you may be able to handle.
It is easy to demand an unrealistic amount of energy out of yourself when caring for a loved one, especially if you feel as if you are the sole caretaker in their life. It is common to start to feel like you are entirely responsible for your loved one’s wellbeing and to become frustrated with your lack of time or resources to make it better. However, pushing yourself too far will quickly exhaust you and could eventually lead to burnout.
Setting your own personal standards too high is an easy way to feel hopeless or worthless when you don’t see big changes in the person’s health status or attitude. To avoid burnout, it is important to remember that you are doing the best you can, and seeing big changes will take time.
Managing Caregiver Burnout
If you suspect you are experiencing caregiver burnout, you are not alone. Here are some tips for lessening the burden of caregiving in your life:
- Get help from a someone you trust. Confide in a friend, family member or counselor and let them know how you are feeling. Try not to hold in your emotions in order to seem stronger. You do not need to feel guilty for having your own struggles and frustrations.
- Seek professional help. Talking to therapist, counselor or clergy member could help you find coping strategies for dealing with your emotions.
- Find ways to take temporary breaks from care. Try and find other people (such as family members or friends) to assist you in caregiving to give yourself some much-needed time off. If you cannot find other help, adult day care services can give you a break from caregiving while maintaining the peace of mind that your loved one is in good hands.
- Come to terms with your loved one’s disease. It can be difficult to accept the reality that your loved one’s condition may not improve, even after all of your devoted care. Degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, can be especially difficult to cope with as a caregiver. Seek out resources and educate yourself about the disease to better understand what changes you can expect to see.
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise. And try to eat well! Your own body’s needs may seem like a low priority when you are so involved with caring for somebody else, but staying healthy will make you happier and keep your immune system from crashing due to stress.
- Accept your feelings. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect, and know that it is OK to feel tired, frustrated, sad and even angry. These feelings do not make you a bad person or caregiver.
Resources for Caregivers
Online Caregiver Support Groups – Caregivers for people with chronic physical or mental conditions, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, can find support and community with other caregivers in a Family Caregiver Alliance support group.
Eldercare Locator – Find adult day care and assisted living services, as well as other forms of eldercare in your area with the Eldercare Locator from the U.S. Administration on Aging.
Next Step in Care – Find guides to assist caregivers with providing safe and smooth transitions for your chronic or seriously ill loved ones.
Financial Steps for Caregivers – This guide from the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement will help you plan your long-term and short-term financial security while caregiving.
Medicaid Cash & Counseling for Low-Income Individuals – Find out if your loved one qualifies for government assistance for caregiving, which could allow them to pay you for your time spent providing care.
Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire – This questionnaire from the American Medical Association can help you identify some of your emotions and detect potential warning signs of caregiver burnout.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 1-800-273-8255 if you think you are at risk of hurting yourself or someone else.
To learn more, read through some of our other guides below.
Christian Worstell is a health care and policy writer for MedicareSupplement.com. He has written hundreds of articles helping people better understand their Medicare coverage options.