Being a caregiver is no easy task. Whether you're caring for an aging family member, friend, or even an elderly neighbor, taking on that responsibility comes with emotional, physical, financial, and mental stress.
No matter who you're caring for, the most important thing to know is that you're not alone. One in seven U.S. adults provides unpaid care of some kind to another adult, according to the Pew Research Center. 13% of these individuals report being very tired or stressed during caregiving activities. From handling medication to the feeling of being "on alert" and trying to avoid any possible falls or injuries, the job of a caregiver is a new territory that many enter unprepared.
How to Recognize Caregiver Burnout
Those who take on the responsibility of caring for an elderly loved one often feel overwhelmed by the countless tasks that come with the job. Without any formal training or education, stepping into the role as a caregiver can have a huge learning curve. Furthermore, when you're caring for a loved one, emotions and relationships are also on the line. Many caregivers battle to find a balance between caring for their loved one and making time for themselves.
Like with any demanding job, burnout is always a possibility. Caregiver burnout is defined by Cleveland Clinic as "a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion." The cause of burnout can include several factors, from unrealistic expectations, lack of control, unreasonable demands, or role confusion. Role confusion occurs when individuals find themselves unable to separate their roles as caregivers from their roles as spouses, children, friends, etc.
But what exactly does caregiver burnout look like? The symptoms can be similar to those of stress or depression, and include:
- Feelings of helplessness
- Changes in weight or sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
Unfortunately, many caregivers don't realize they're experiencing burnout until they're already dealing with multiple symptoms. Often feelings or symptoms are pushed to the side to focus on the loved one, but that can elongate or worsen the burnout.
Overcoming and Preventing Caregiver Burnout
Luckily there are plenty of ways to prevent caregiver burnout! Before you enter the role of caregiver or experience burnout symptoms, set boundaries. These boundaries can take many forms, such as:
- Setting realistic goals and expectations
- Knowing your limits
- Educating yourself on your loved one's condition
When you accept the responsibility of a caregiver, it's important to remember that you can only help someone else if you're taking care of yourself first. Remember to stay healthy, get plenty of sleep and stay active. These tools will help you enter into the role with the best possible mindset.
If you're already experiencing symptoms of caregiver burnout and trying to find balance, you can start by taking these essential steps to take care of yourself:
- Acknowledge what you're feeling and talk to someone you trust. Experiencing negative thoughts or feelings is a normal reaction if you have been thrust into the role of caregiver. Many caregivers find comfort in talking to a therapist and find that having a neutral sounding board is a great release.
- Try joining a caregiver support group. A support group led by a trained professional who has worked with similar situations before can help guide you through the process and provide local resources to assist you.
- If you’re experiencing symptoms of caregiver burnout, remember to take time for yourself. Setting time aside for yourself is not a luxury but a necessity that you owe yourself.
Finally, if you're experiencing caregiver burnout and or find that you can no longer care for a loved one, remember that there are always other options. These options include at-home health services from a trained nurse or moving your loved one to a retirement home or senior community.
While the thought of uprooting a loved one from their home is often the last resort for many and can be viewed as a negative, it's so often the best option. Not only will your loved one be safe and receive the best possible care, but you will be better able to take care of yourself as well. At a retirement home or assisted living facility, your loved one will be supported by trained professionals. They will also be surrounded by others their age and will have the opportunity to make new friends.