Caregiver burnout is a form of physical and mental drain that can leave you feeling negative, frustrated, and resentful. Luckily, caregiver burnout—also called caregiver stress or caregiver stress syndrome—doesn’t last forever. If you take steps to prevent and treat it, burnout can resolve within a few weeks or months, allowing you to excel in your role once more. Keep reading to find out if you are at risk of caregiver burnout and discover what you can do about it.
What is Burnout?
Burnout occurs when periods of excessive or prolonged stress result in emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Caregivers who feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, and powerless in their role are most susceptible to burnout. It causes anxiety, depression, and a change in attitude. Burnout also has physical effects such as fatigue and aches and pains.
All caregivers need to take steps to prevent burnout before it occurs. Self-care and spending time outside of the caregiving role should be viewed as necessities, rather than luxuries. After all, if you can’t look after yourself, how can you be expected to look after another?
Causes of Caregiver Burnout
Elderly care is a rewarding yet demanding role. If caregivers neglect their own physical and emotional needs, they can end up experiencing both physical and psychological symptoms of burnout. Here are the main ways that caregiver duties contribute to burnout:
Being short of resources—including money and skills— can cause excessive stress for caregivers as they are unable to effectively plan and manage the care of a loved one.
Some caregivers believe they must give everything to their caregiving role, and they neglect to ask for help or share responsibilities with others.
Many people feel that their loved one should begin to thrive under their care. While this may be the case in some instances, it’s unrealistic to expect this when the patient has a progressive condition such as Alzheimer's. Caregiver’s stress also arises when caregivers go into their role believing that it won’t sometimes be stressful or demanding.
Suddenly becoming a caregiver can thrust some people into an identity crisis. They may only see themselves as a caregiver, and forget they are also a spouse, parent, child, friend, sibling, and so much more.
Being unaware of the possibility of burnout can increase the risk of experiencing the condition. Similarly, not recognizing its signs means people are slower to address symptoms of burnout until it becomes severe.
Caregiver Burnout Quiz
If you are a caregiver who is worried about burnout, ask yourself the following:
- Do you often experience tension, stress, or resentment when around your loved one?
- Has caring for another person had a negative impact on your physical health, mental health, or social life?
- Do you feel that caregiving requires more of you that you can cope with?
- Do you regularly wish you could stop being a caregiver?
Answering yes to any of the above questions could suggest caregiver burnout, but you should speak with your doctor or a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis.
Caregiver Burnout Symptoms
Symptoms and signs of caregiver burnout are similar to those of stress and depression, and include:
- Avoiding additional responsibilities
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering information
- Extreme fatigue
- Falling ill more frequently than usual
- Inability to relax, even when “off-duty”
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Lack of satisfaction in the caregiving role
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or your loved one
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawal from friends and family
It’s important to learn the signs of burnout so you can take steps to deal with the issue at the earliest opportunity. If you’re already burned out, you will likely need to take time off to recover. It’s not in the best interest of either the caregiver or the patient to continue caregiving when burned out.
Recovering from Caregiver Burnout
The steps to prevent and recover from caregiver burnout syndrome are relatively similar. However, those who are in recovery should take time out from their caregiving role until they feel well enough to resume duties.
The following are important steps in managing stress for caregivers:
Seeking support is one of the most effective ways to prevent or treat caregiver burnout. Talking about your feelings with a trusted friend or a mental health professional can allow you to work through negative thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner.
Also, speaking with co-workers or other caregivers can give you a more realistic view of your strengths and limitations, as well as those of the person for whom you are caring.
Recognize your Power and Choices
Burnout, stress, and depression arise from feelings of powerlessness. It’s important to recognize the power you have in the situation. For example, you are making a choice to care for a loved one. You can choose how to react to situations as they arise. Focus on the positive choices you can make for yourself and the person you care for. Never underestimate the power you have to make someone else feel comfortable and safe.
Try a pedal exerciser for an intense cardio workout while sitting. ( See Product )
Regular physical activity is a must for all caregivers. Exercise boosts endorphins to improve mood and reduce stress and depression. It also helps you cope with the physical demands of caregiving. Any type of activity is beneficial, from swimming or cycling to running or walking.
If you can’t get out and about, try using a pedal exerciser at home and practice Pilates to improve core strength, which can help you lift and support your loved one.
There’s no doubt that caring for another is stressful and frustrating at times, especially when resources are limited. Learning to manage your stress is key to avoiding caregiver burnout. To do this, take regular breaks, spend time in nature, and find a hobby you enjoy—even if it’s simply doing Sudoku while your loved one is napping.
Specific stress-management techniques that can make a big difference to your mood include yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. Some of these can be effective even when performed in five minutes or less.
A transfer belt can make caregiver's lives easier, with easy grip handles and durable material. ( See Product )
Physical strain is a real risk associated with caregiving. In turn, being in pain or feeling physically unwell can impact your emotional wellbeing. To avoid these issues, invest in tools that will make your role easier. For example, take a load off when moving your loved one from their bed to their wheelchair using a transfer belt.
Make sure to look for a transfer bench that is both sturdy and lightweight. ( See Product )
In the bathroom, try a transfer bench so they can have more independence when bathing. Other transfer devices can also make the life of a caregiver that bit easier.
Relieve tension and stress and work out painful muscle knots with a soothing massage. For a full-body treat, schedule a massage with a professional or head to a day spa. Bring a friend or spouse with you for company and social interaction.
Massage roller balls let you get the benefit of a professional masseuse in the comfort of your own home. ( See Product )
When you can’t leave the house, use massage roller balls to work out aches and pains quickly.
Knowing what to expect from your role can help you moderate your expectations and prepare you for what’s to come. As well as learning more about caregiver burnout, educate yourself on some of the issues that affect older adults, such as Sundowner’s syndrome. It can also be helpful to research the specific issues affecting your loved one so you can plan how to deal with these as they arise.
Maintain your energy and stave off illness with a balanced diet. Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, lentils, beans, and beneficial fats such as nuts and olive oil. Try to steer clear of processed foods, especially sugar and caffeine, which can give you a quick shot of energy before setting you up for a blood sugar crash.
Sometimes, it can be easiest to cook a batch of meals once a week and freeze them to enjoy during busier periods. Finally, don’t ignore symptoms of poor digestion, which could be linked to stress.
Adequate sleep is key to maintaining a positive attitude and being able to carry out your duties with enthusiasm. Aim for eight or nine hours of quality sleep each night to ensure you stay happy and productive. Address issues that may be affecting your sleep, such as sleep apnea.
Sleep easy with our plush and firm pillows. ( See Product )
Aim to make your bedroom as comfortable as possible, and invest in soothing lighting and comfortable pillows if necessary.
A padded fall mat will ensure you or your loved ones can stay safe, before and after bed. ( See Product )
If you can’t sleep because you’re worrying about your loved one during the night, provide them with a night-time alarm or a padded fall mat so you can sleep soundly, knowing they will be safe.
Talk to doctors, nurses, and professional home care workers if you need extra support or advice. They can give you information on the resources available in your area. And be sure to check out what these experts have to say on caring for elderly parents at home.
Don’t take on all the responsibilities of caregiving on your own. Ask family and friends for the help you need, even if it’s just delivering a hot meal to your door. If you’re caring for your parent, get your siblings involved. Ask them to take charge of medical responsibilities or finances. Be sure to look for respite care nearby, which may be available in the home for a few hours a week, or out-of-home for entire weeks at a time.
Get the Appreciation you Need
Research reports that caregivers who feel appreciated for their hard work have better physical and emotional health and greater enjoyment in their role, despite its challenges. If your loved one can no longer express their appreciation, imagine what they would say if they were healthy. Look for positive reinforcement from family and friends. You should also recognize and value your own contribution to the person you are caring for. Keep a journal of the positive experiences of caregiving and look back on this when times are tough.
Supports for Caregivers
If you have burnout, it’s imperative that you seek medical attention—for your own benefit as well as that of the person for whom you are caring. You may also want to connect with others who understand what you are going through. The following contacts may help:
- Caregiver support groups. These groups can help caregivers connect with one another to share stories, coping strategies, and other tips. Online forums and groups are an option for those who can’t leave the house.
- Local agencies. The local Area Agency on Aging or the nearest chapter of the AARP can give you a list of services in your area to make your role easier. Resources include day care services, respite care, and local support groups.
- National organizations. Specific national organizations, such as the Parkinson's Foundation or the National Stroke Association, may be able to offer you support when dealing with a certain illness. Alternatively, the Family Caregiver Alliance may be able to direct you to the best place to find more information on caring for a loved one.
Don’t Deal with Caregiver Burnout Alone
While caregiving may seem lonely sometimes—especially if your loved one is unable to appreciate your efforts—it’s vital that you realize you’re not alone. Seek support to prevent or recover from caregiver burnout. Speak with family, friends, doctors, mental health professionals, and other caregivers. These people can provide encouragement, hope, and a list of resources to help you enjoy your role once more. Don’t forget to look after your health, diet, and sleep while caring for another and invest in tools to make your job easier—both physically and emotionally.