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If you’re not careful, caregiving can lead to burnout – for no matter how good your intentions and no matter how much you love the person you care for – at the end of the day, month or year…this job can wear you down.

And once you’re at burnout, not only is caregiving compromised, you also put your own health, happiness and relationships in serious jeopardy.

But it doesn’t have to go this way. Caregiving is never going to be an easy job, the hours are always going to run long and you’ll never get the thanks you deserve for all you do; but if you’re careful, you can do this for the long run and do it well, without sacrificing what’s important.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Read the list of burnout warning signs below and check yourself to evaluate whether you might already be in burnout mode.

And whether you’re already in trouble or just hoping to avoid it, take a look at the advice on avoiding caregiver burnout and see whether you might want to make a few changes to your daily routines in the interest of caring for yourself – as you care for others.

Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Some caregiver burnout warning signs include:

  • Becoming more easily frustrated or irritated – losing your temper more easily
  • Experiencing sudden mood fluctuations
  • Worrying all the time – such as about whether you have enough money to keep things going or if you have enough knowledge to do a good job as a caregiver
  • Feeling guilty that you can’t do more
  • Coming to resent your caregiving duties or the person you care for – starting to care less or even starting to think about harming the person you care for
  • Often feeling sad or lonely – experiencing depression
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Crying a lot
  • Experiencing lowered self worth
  • Feeling overwhelmed – becoming less able to stay focused or concentrate
  • Forgetting your own self care – failing to take care of your own health problems
  • Starting to miss/skip your own appointments
  • Becoming more socially isolated – skipping time with friends and family
  • Unexplained aches and pains – back pains or headaches
  • Having difficulty sleeping well – or sleeping more than you used to/need to
  • Initiating or increasing the use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs
  • Lowered immune function – you get sick more easily
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Weight gain or loss1

Preventing/Dealing with Caregiver Burnout

Whether you’re already experiencing burnout or you’re sensibly planning ahead to reduce your risks of overwhelming stress and exhaustion, there’s a lot you can do to become a more effective caregiver without sacrificing so much of your own health and happiness.

Tips for preventing or dealing with caregiver burnout include:

1. Get Educated

The more you know about the conditions you’re dealing with the more effectively you’ll be able to use your time and resources. Education helps you take back control over the process as you gain enough understanding of this issues to make your own effective choices – and since with more education you’ll make better choices, you can also feel good knowing that your efforts are where they need to be.

Education helps you to understand the situation, take more control over your caregiving responsibilities and be more effective during the time you spend on the job – and these are three highly protective factors against burnout.

In addition to general disease knowledge, you’ll also want to acquire specific caregiving skills which can increase your confidence and which will protect you from injury (from heavy lifting for example) and from overwhelming fatigue. You can learn caregiving skills from books, websites and videos, but you may also want to ask for specific training. If you work at all with an occupational or physical therapist, they may be willing to demonstrate certain techniques that can help you a great deal. 2

2. Set Limits and Learn to Say No

Caregiving can take over your life, if you let it – sweeping away marriages, careers and friendships as it rolls along.

But it doesn’t have to go that way.

You can’t do it all on your own and you don’t have to do it all on your own. Take some time to decide what you are willing and unwilling to do, specifically, and make sure that all family members and medical staff involved in your family member’s care know and respect your limits.

And once you’ve set limits for yourself – stick to them! You don’t have to lose your health, relationships and happiness to caregiving but that’s exactly what you’re risking unless you can learn to say no and learn to achieve some balance in your life.3

And since you can’t do it all on your own you’ll need the assistance of friends and family, so when they offer help, accept it and tell them exactly how what they can do.

3. Find Emotional Support

You can’t do this on your own.

Caregiving can be a lonely thankless job and you need periodic infusions of emotional support to stay sane, healthy and happy.

Find emotional support:

  • From regular meetings with friends and family who empathize with what you’re dealing with
  • From caregiving support groups – these are not only an excellent source of emotional support, they are also great places to find important caregiving information on topics like finding affordable or subsidized respite care. You may also want to look into online ‘support groups’ or virtual caregiver communities as another source of emotional support, understanding and ideas.
  • From a counselor or therapist – a counselor can help you work through the emotions like grief, anger, frustration, sadness and others that invariably accompany the caregiving experience.

4. Make Full Use of Available Respite Services

Caregiving hours are long and you need all the breaks you can get. You need at least a half a day off once a week (more is better) and periodic longer breaks from your duties.

Make full use of all the community respite services you are allotted/can afford. Some respite services to consider include:

  • Having a health aid or companion come to the house so that you can have some time to yourself
  • Enrolling your loved one in an adult day care service
  • Having your loved one stay in a nursing home facility for a few days and nights once in a while so you can take a few days to get away

In some cases you can learn more about what’s available in your area by contacting a local health advocacy group, such as the Alzheimer’s foundation or local or national Parkinson’s, cancer or other disease groups.

5. Take Care of Yourself

You are in a marathon, not a sprint, and you’ll never reach the finish line unless you take care of yourself as well as you take care of your loved one.

Remember to:

  • Make and keep doctor’s and dentist’s appointments for yourself
  • Eat well
  • Take care of your mental health through relaxation techniques or meditation
  • Exercise – keep your immune system ticking along as you bust down caregiving stress with vigorous exercise
  • Treat yourself – A caregiving life can be demanding but life still needs to be pleasurable, so remember to keep things fun with regularly scheduled time for yourself - Treat yourself to a massage or a regular day at the gym or a poker night a week with the guys. Buy yourself that new gadget you’ve been eying or schedule some time for yourself to just unwind and get into a good book.

6. Get More Sleep

For caregiving you need your rest, but because of caregiving, it’s hard to get it.

Caregiving responsibilities don’t stop at the end of a 9 to 5 day, and for a lot of people, frequent overnight wake-ups are a too unfortunate reality.

You need your rest. Here are some tips that may help you get a little more.

  • If you need to get up frequently to help your loved one use the bathroom, talk to his or her doctor about medications that may be causing night waking and discuss strategies to increase periods of sleep. Also see if you can minimize liquid intake in the hours prior to bedtime.To maximize the hours you do get, minimize caffeine in the evening and try to make sure you get a little physical exercise each day (be wary of exercising too close to bedtime however, as this can increase alertness).
  • Have a friend, outside caregiver or relative take the night shift so you can get an uninterrupted sleeping break.
  • Modify the physical environment to make it possible and comfortable for your loved one to get up and use the bathroom without requiring your assistance. Modifications to consider include grab bars, a raised toilet seat, strong night lighting, emergency call intercom or a bell that can be rung in case of a need for assistance.

7.  Get Organized

When you’re already exhausted, keeping track of all those appointments, recommended home health care procedures and prescriptions can be overwhelming.

Take some time to create a system for keeping track of all the paperwork and scheduling and you’ll feel your stress burden ease slightly.

8. Stay Social

When you add together caregiving’s constant pull and the energy required to do a good job it’s no wonder that too many caregivers experience increasing social isolation as a result of their at home duties.

But your life is more than just your duties at home and you owe it to yourself to stay connected with the people, places and activities that matter to you.

You’ll go crazy unless you can get out and have some fun with friends or family on a regular basis. It’s not a luxury it’s a necessity, so schedule social time in and don’t let it get derailed.

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Page last updated Jul 05, 2012

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