How to prevent caregiver burnout

October 11, 2021
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Being a caregiver for a loved one in your life can be fulfilling yet stressful at times. If one does not find a way to balance the strains of caregiving with personal time and support, it can also lead to exhaustion and frustration. Often, when this type of stress is prolonged, it can take a substantial emotional, physical, and mental toll sometimes referred to as caregiver burnout. 

There are often warning signs before burnout occurs; knowing how to recognize them can help you to take steps to manage or prevent the stress you’re experiencing. 

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute, an estimated 53 million American adults were unpaid caregivers in 2020, 40 percent of caregivers felt emotionally stressed, almost 20 percent said it caused financial problems, and about 20 percent felt physically strained. 

General warning signs and symptoms for caregiver burnout include:

  • feeling anxious

  • avoiding people

  • feeling depression

  • feeling exhausted

  • the feeling you’re losing control of your life

  • being irritable

  • having a lack of energy

  • losing interest in the things you like to do

  • neglecting your needs and health

Physical signs include:

  • body aches and pains

  • fatigue

  • frequent headaches

  • increased or decreased appetite

  • unusual changes in weight

  • insomnia

  • a weakened immune system, leading to frequent infections

While emotional signs are less easy to recognize, some of them are:

  • becoming angry and argumentative

  • becoming irritated easily and often

  • constantly worrying

  • feeling depressed

  • feeling hopeless

  • feeling impatient

  • not being able to concentrate

  • isolating yourself emotionally and physically

  • lacking interest in things that used to make you happy

  • lacking motivation

10 Strategies for Coping With Caregiver Stress

Caregiver burnout can be diagnosed by your doctor or mental health provider. There are also self-assessment tests you can take to determine whether you have burnout. But if you’re feeling stressed as a caregiver, there are some steps you can take to make sure you’re caring for yourself in addition to your loved one:

  1. Get respite. In some instances, it may be a good idea to make arrangements to have a professional step in from time to time, to give yourself time to recharge and make sure you’re caring for your own needs. 

  2. Take regular breaks. Think about ways you can build regular protected time into your daily schedule, so that you’re less likely to let stress and exhaustion build up.

  3. Set boundaries. Even when you’ve done a good job of planning to balance your time, it can be tempting to step back into caregiving even when you shouldn’t. Try to set your limits and stick to them. While you may feel guilty for setting boundaries, it is good to remind yourself that you can’t sustainably care for others if you aren’t in good health as well. 

  4. Accept your limitations. Speaking of limits, sometimes it is tough to determine what is too much, especially if you’re new to caring for a loved one on a regular basis. Pay attention to your body and look for signs that you’re overworked to get a good sense of your own limitations. 

  5. Get organized. Many times, lacking structure or convenience can make simple caretaking activities more difficult. To make things easier on yourself, try to track any appointments for your loved ones, in addition to your own breaks and times away, on a schedule. Keep important medical resources on hand, so that you don’t feel like you’re having to scramble from thing to thing on a daily basis. 

  6. Communicate. Letting others around you know when you’re at your limit, or even just feeling stress can go a long way toward helping you feel like your responsibilities are more manageable. 

  7. Make care a family team effort. When possible, it may be more sustainable to divide caregiving responsibilities with fellow family members or friends. Your loved ones will want to show up for you, just as you’re showing up for your loved one.

  8. Stay active. Staying in good physical shape will ensure that you’re in the best position to show up for your loved ones and provide them the best care.

  9. Attend to your own physical and mental health. Though it often doesn’t feel as obvious when your mental health is at risk, your mental wellbeing is just as important as your physical health. If you’re experiencing stress or feeling like you’re taking on the mental burdens associated with being a caregiver, you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional to find ways to better cope with your day-to-day caregiving responsibilities. 

  10. Consider taking time away from work. Sometimes being a caregiver can feel like a full-time job itself. Couple that with another full-time job, and managing it all may feel impossible at times. Whether you’re a caregiver or not, there’s no shame in taking time away from day-to-day professional responsibilities to recharge. In the long run, you’ll be able to perform better at work and in other parts of your life if you’re able to take those times to rest and relax. 

Being a caregiver is a special and important responsibility. Though we always want to do all we can to show up for our loved ones, it is important to remember that we do the best job caring for others when we remember to also care for our own needs. 

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