Whether you’re a nurse, friend or family member who cares for an aging loved one, you may have jumped into your caregiver duties without thinking about the long-term reality of the role. As time goes on, your physical and mental health may begin to suffer. A caregiver may end up having trouble providing adequate care for the patient and themselves if they experience caregiver burnout.

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a very real condition that’s characterized by exhaustion, mood changes and shifts in attitude. It often happens when friends or family members take on the role of caregiver for someone they love. However, nurses may also get caregiver burnout, which is also referred to as compassion fatigue.

Research shows that taking care of others can be stressful. As the strain builds over time, it leaks into other areas of the caregiver’s life. Work, relationships, school and physical health can all be affected.

A caregiver has to take on many roles. They often serve as confidants and nurses. But they might also take on the role of house cleaner, errand-runner and personal hygiene assistant. They may feel responsible for their charge’s physical and emotional well-being.

Moreover, a caregiver never knows what the situation might be like from day to day. A caregiver has an unpredictable job. Patients with dementia may lash out at their caregiver, making them feel unappreciated and even frightened. Working with patients who have disabilities may be physically demanding.

Signs and Symptoms

Caregiver burnout mimics many of the symptoms of chronic stress. The condition causes physical and psychological symptoms. The psychological effects are often more intense than the physical effects. Compounded, the symptoms of caregiver burnout can wreak havoc on a person’s welfare, though.

• Difficulty sleeping
• Stress
Anxiety
Depression
• Increased susceptibility to illness
• Body aches
• Headaches
• Changes in weight or appetite

Some psychological and behavioral signs that you might be developing caregiver burnout include:

• Neglecting your own responsibilities, health and appointments
• Eating an unhealthy diet
• Feeling detached and unconcerned about the patient’s wellbeing
• Neglecting your caretaker responsibilities
• Excessive use of alcohol or other substances
• Moodiness
• Withdrawal from social activities
• Raising your voice at your patient
• Feeling like harming yourself or the person in your care
• Feeling persistent worry
• Experiencing a lack of motivation

This caregiver assessment was developed by the American Medical Association and can help you evaluate whether you’re suffering from burnout.

How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout

One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to practice self-care. This term is often thrown around online and on social media. It may mean something different for everyone.

Take some time to consider how you’re going to maintain your quality of life if you’re taking on a caregiver role. Make plans before you get involved in caregiver responsibilities. Some ways to prevent burnout include:

• Taking days off to relax and rejuvenate
• Setting aside time for yourself every day
• Talking about your feelings and irritations with a trusted friend
• Asking for help from others
• Maintaining a regular sleep and exercise schedule
• Keeping up with the things that you’re passionate about, such as hobbies

A caregiver often has trouble accepting the fact that a loved one is sick. This is especially true when the patient is facing a terminal or progressive illness.

A caregiver may also be hard on themselves for experiencing negative emotions. Being irritable, frustrated or stressed out is not uncommon. It doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. Talking to a professional about your feelings can help you find acceptance and learn how to overcome caregiver burnout.

Take time throughout your day to check in with yourself. Do you feel balanced, or are things starting to get out of control? If, during your check-in, you realize that you’re exhibiting signs and symptoms of burnout, you might be overloaded.

How to Overcome Caregiver Burnout

Recognizing caregiver burnout signs and symptoms is the first step to overcoming burnout. By the time you have symptoms, it’s too late to focus on prevention.

If you’re dealing with physical symptoms, go to the doctor. Caregiver burnout can lower your immune system and make you more likely to get sick. Ignoring an illness can increase your fatigue and make the caregiver feel worse.

A caregiver who is experiencing psychological symptoms might want to see a therapist or counselor. Attending support group meetings may also be helpful. Getting validation and advice can help you feel like you’re not alone and give you strategies to overcome caregiver burnout.

Consider hiring an in-home therapist for the person in your care. Shuttling them to appointments may be taking up valuable time that you could devote to yourself. Taking a break shouldn’t be a luxury for the caregiver; it’s a necessity.

Working with a service such as Blue Moon Senior Counseling can help a caregiver get the help that they need for themselves and their patient. Contact us by making a referral if you know someone who could benefit from at-home senior counseling.

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