Illness turns our lives upside down. When someone becomes sick with a chronic condition, we suddenly find ourselves coping with things that we never expected to do coping with. Not only can the symptoms of the condition be a lot to manage, but things like physiotherapy, medication regimens, doctors appointments and more suddenly become a large part of our daily lives. When our loved ones become sick, it’s only natural that someone in the household, or in the family, steps up to help that person manage their lives with the illness. In fact, more than 8 million Canadians provide care for family and loved ones every year.

That’s more than 1 in 4 people who dedicate at least some part of their day to helping, unpaid, someone cope with illness.

Dealing with the day-to-day of life keeps us busy enough. When you add caring for a sick family member into the mix, it complicates things, especially when you consider that 75% of all caregivers already have full-time employment at the time they become caregivers. Once you take into account the fact that 1 in 10 caregivers often provide upwards of 30 hours of care a week, it’s no surprise that caregivers can experience burnout.

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout, also known as caregiver fatigue or compassion fatigue, is a state of physical, emotion and mental fatigue that can occur from the prolonged exposure to the stress of being a caregiver.

This state of exhaustion has a way of working itself into every aspect of your life and goes beyond just feeling tired all the time. It causes problems with our personal and professional lives, it makes it hard to focus and, perhaps worst of all, it can lead to mistakes in the care of loved ones.

Considering what’s potentially at stake, both for you and the ones you care for, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs that caregiver burnout is setting in. Catching burnout before it happens prevents you from hitting that wall and, if you catch it in time, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re still able to provide quality care for your loved ones, while taking care of yourself at the same time.

15 Signs of Caregiver Burnout

  • Increased irritation, frustration, or anger over small things.

When things that don’t normally set you off, start setting you off, it’s a good indicator that you’re starting to experience burnout. This could be anything, like children making more noise than you’d like them to or even losing your cool because you’re out of dish soap.

  • Increased anxiety

Constantly thinking about someone else’s health and well-being can leave people in a state of constant worry. If you can’t stop thinking there’s more you could be doing to help or that you’ve forgotten something (and always feel that way), there’s a good chance burnout is coming.

  • Lack of energy

This is a big one. Being a caregiver requires a lot of time and energy, on top of our already busy lives. Feeling like you just don’t have enough energy (ever) can mean that you’re not just tired from providing care, but that you’re hitting that proverbial wall.

  • Sleep problems

When people burnout, sleep becomes a problem. Sometimes you’re not getting enough of it, sometimes you could sleep all day and still feel tired. If you notice a sudden shift in your sleeping patterns, it could be time to slow down.

  • Weight loss or gain

Just like sleep, our eating habits can provide a good indicator about our mental health. Suddenly gaining or losing weight in stressful situations is a sign we’re not taking proper care of ourselves, which leads to burnout.

  • A feeling of hopelessness

Sometimes, no matter what we do, it just feels like it the work we’re doing as a caregiver doesn’t matter. As burnout sets in, this feeling intensifies and can leave someone with that feeling like they’re just going through the motions.

  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

Right up there with a feeling of hopelessness is the feeling that you no longer enjoy the things you love. This is common when you dedicate so much of your time to helping other people (and is a very common sign of burnout).  

  • Neglecting your own needs

Any parent can tell you how easy it is to get so caught up in looking after their kids, that you neglect yourself. The same holds true for caregivers. Dedicating your free time to others can often leave little, to no, room left for you.

  • Feeling like caregiving is taking over

Sometimes, it can feel like the work never ends. Between appointments, medication and things like basic care (meals and bathing), caregiving is a full-time job on its own (so much so that 44% of caregivers miss 8 – 9 days of work a year). If you start to feel like caregiving is all you do, you could be starting to burnout.

  • Feeling increasingly resentful

Feelings of resentment, either towards the one you’re providing care for or people in your life who don’t provide care for others, is never a good thing. It means that the work you’re doing to help your loved one has reached the point where you’re starting to run out of steam.

  • Role Confusion

This one can be tricky. Most caregivers aren’t totally sure what their role is when it comes to providing care. This can lead to taking on more than is necessary, speeding up the onset of burnout.

  • Depression or mood swings

When we burnout, our mental and emotional state can leave us feeling depressed and moody. This happens because of the toll being a caregiver can take on our lives.

  • Difficulty coping with everyday things

Running on our lives can be challenging enough. Once you add being a caregiver into the mix, we start to let little things like grabbing groceries or even sweeping the floor fall by the wayside.

  • Increased illness

When we become exhausted, both mentally and physically, it weakens our immune system and we start getting sick more frequently. If you notice that you’ve been getting sick more often than normal, or you just can’t shake a cold, it can mean you’re starting to burnout.

  • Substance abuse

It’s only natural to try and deal with stress by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Pay attention to signs that you may be turning to drinking or drugs as a way of feeling normal.

Preventing caregiver burnout

If you’re lucky enough to notice the signs of caregiver burnout before you actually burn out, you can take steps to prevent it from fully setting in.

The biggest thing you can do when you notice burnout starting to set in, is making time for yourself. Doing little things for yourself, like taking a walk or doing meditation for example, can help you relieve some of the stress that is causing that feeling of burning out simply by removing you from the caregiver position for a small period of time.  

Finding time for yourself often seems like a huge task, but it’s possible if you ask for help. It probably seems like there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to being a caregiver, but there are. Telehealth services (health services that use video conferencing and phone calls to provide care over a distance), for example, are a great way to get support while dealing with those in your care by allowing you to help without having to make an appointment somewhere..

How to deal with caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout doesn’t mean that you have to stop looking after your loved ones. It just signals that you need to focus a little bit more on yourself in order to deal with burning out. Just like when it comes to preventing burnout, dealing with burnout means doing something feels almost impossible, but is totally possible: taking care of yourself.

The first thing to try is talking to someone about how you feel. Keeping your feelings bottled up inside you is a surefire way to ensure that burnout sets in and festers while your mental and physical well-being falls apart.

Caregiver support groups are a great place to start. Talking to people who have been through what you’re going through is an amazing way to feel like you’re not alone in your struggle and can help you cope with being a caregiver. Therapy is also a great thing to consider, especially if you’re experiencing depression, anxiety or feelings.

Another way to help is to make time for yourself. This one probably feels like it’s easier said, than done, but setting aside time for yourself is an important way to manage burnout. Go to the gym, go for a walk, sit down for a nice meal, spend time with friends or even schedule a spa day. The one person who tends to get neglected the most when experiencing burnout is you, so focus on you.

Finally, ask for help. You don’t have to do this on your own and admitting that you need help is a great way to prevent caregiver burnout.

If there are little things that you can delegate to someone, say another family member, do that. If you’re in a position where you can involve a professional caregiver or home nurse, bring someone in. Little things, too, like hiring someone to help clean your house can really help relieve the burden. You could even get help with things like managing the medication for the person you’re providing care for. Pocket Pills, for example, allows you manage all aspects of medication from your phone. Medication is delivered to your house, refills happen automatically and, best of all, the medication comes pre-sorted by dose in easy to open packages. This removes most of the burden of managing medication from you and gives you more time to take care of yourself.

Take Care of You

Your health and well-being matters just as much as it does for those you care for. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout can help you continue to provide the kind of care that your family members or loved ones needs while they’re coping with illness.

If you think that you’re starting to experience burnout (or if you think you’re already experiencing burnout), following the advice above can help reduce the severity of it, or possibly help you avoid it all together. If there’s anything we can do to help (like, say, by helping you manage their medication), simply give us a call at 1-855-950-7225. We’re here to help.

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