Being a caregiver is a demanding job that can easily overtake your life. When loved ones become chronically ill, disabled, and or elderly, many of us step up to the task of providing needed care. If you are in this position, just as the name suggests, you are constantly in a state of giving your care to another. This can and will no doubt lead to burnout. Burnout is a phrase that is used when we are giving too much to something and not getting enough of our own needs met. This is especially true when caregiving for the elderly, sick and dying.
First of all, it is important to understand what burnout actually is and to identify the signs.
Burnout is a debilitating psychological state that is caused by unrelieved stress. In other words, the accumulation of physical, emotional, financial, and family dynamic burdens become too much to handle and maintain in a healthy way. Some signs of heading toward burnout are overwhelming fatigue that can lead to sleep disturbances, emotional exhaustion that leaves you irritable, depressed, or anxious. In addition, feelings of resentment, hopelessness, and loneliness are all indicators of burnout.
Several factors influence caregiver burden which in turn could lead to burnout. Some of these factors include, gender of the caregiver, nature of the disease, the kind of relationship with the receiver of care, the perceived quality of the relationship, and reciprocated support. These factors may determine the amount of stress you may experience as a caregiver. From a psychological point of view, burnout can be seen in two ways. One, is the physical demand and amount of time caregiving and its intrusion into all parts of your life. The second is the affect on the caregiver’s well-being. Burnout is seen as the negative emotional and cognitive response of caregiving. Fortunately, there are techniques to combat these feelings of being worn out.
Self-care– This is by far the most important part of being a caregiver. I think of it as taking back some of the care we give away. I am aware that time is not the friend of a caregiver as there is always something more to be done, however it cannot be an excuse to push your needs aside. Taking time to do something healthy for yourself is vital and it needs to happen on a regular basis. This could be something simple as partaking in a hobby, listening to music, or reading a few chapters in a book. It does not matter what healthy thing you do as long as you are doing it for yourself.
Eating healthy and exercising– Again, I understand how difficult this can be when our schedules become so full that we neglect our needs. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will actually lessen the caregiving stress. Planning meals ahead of time is a good way to ensure that we are fueling our bodies properly. Exercising can be a part of your self-care time and could include taking a walk or even looking into workouts that can be done in the house without equipment. Perhaps this can be done while your loved one naps. When our time is so limited, creativity is key. Look for ways to incorporate a healthy lifestyle into your caregiving routine.
Emotional support– As caregivers we tend to think that we can take on everything by ourselves. This thinking will always lead to extra stress and burnout. If you need help, ask for it. It may sound cliché, but you can’t take care of someone else until you take care of yourself. This includes your emotional well-being. Leaning on friends and family is a great way to vent your frustrations and share your pain. If you find that part of your life lacking, consider going to therapy as caregiving can lead to trauma if not properly processed. Therapy is a great way to work through those thoughts and feelings of burnout and learn skills to emotionally cope. In addition, finding a support group can help to connect to others that understand your plight.
Moreover, caregivers often find that their loved ones need more than they can provide. In these cases, considering respite care could help a great deal. There are many nonprofit agencies that offer state assisted home care. These agencies can provide meals, help with cleaning, and bathing. I recommend looking for places on the internet or calling your townhall to have them recommend reputable agencies. Most states have a budget to allow for this and financial aid is available for many.
Overall, caregiving can be a very burdensome job and taking the care for yourself that you give to your loved one is crucial in maintaining mental and physical health. Lastly, give yourself love and credit for doing a morally just and good thing. For further reading, here are two good articles that thoroughly explore caregiving burnout:
Caregiver burnout among intimate partners of patients with a severe illness: An equity perspective. Personal Relationships, 9 (2002), 73–88.
By: Kathryn Chambers
Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc.