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 care giving 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.

Caregiver Burnout Challenges

The majority of us understand that caregiving is not going to be easy, but we fail to realize the sacrifices one might have to undergo. A caregiver invests money, time, and an enormous amount of energy in caring for a loved one. 

Numerous challenges are unique for caregivers. By identifying these challenges, caregivers are less likely to disregard their needs. It is important to understand that a caregiver who prioritizes their wellness and is prepared for challenges is best to serve others. 

Some common caregiver burnout challenges are as follows:

  • Isolation: Being a caregiver may be time-intensive, especially for those who are working or have additional responsibilities. When you spend most of your time taking care of another person, isolation is quite a common challenge. So, caregivers need to spend time with friends, like going to a movie or just a walk. This will help your health, improving outcomes for the person receiving care.
  • Lack of access to professional resources: The majority of the caregivers have little or no medical experience. Lack of resources may make things look scary, especially while making decisions that will affect the health of an aging loved one. Caregivers undergo added stress while making important medical decisions due to a lack of reliable resources and support.
  • Lack of support: A support system is critical to prevent burnout. Caregivers must realize when they need help, should it be from family members, other caregivers, a physician, or a therapist.
  • Financial strain: Along with caregiving, there are additional expenses that may require the attention of those providing care. Caregivers who are providing both financial support and caregiving have higher stress levels. In such cases, a professional care adviser may help you find the best options for the person being cared for and make sense financially.

Caregiver Fear and Mistakes

The most common fear of a caregiver is the fear of making a mistake and asking for help. Here are certain ways to overcome these fears:

  • Accept the fact that caregiving means experimenting to find out what is best for your loved one. Mistakes are bound to happen during the journey, and it is great to give your best and learn from mistakes.
  • Celebrate accomplishments and be fair to yourself. 
  • Do not overthink about things that could happen in the future. Planning is essential, but staying in the present and focusing on the present will help you in the longer go.
  • Aging and decline are inevitable, and accepting it will help your mental health and allow you to spend quality time with the person being cared for.

Attitude Towards Caregiver

Various studies have shown a relationship between the attitude of the caregiver towards the patients being cared for, especially those with psychiatric disorders. Their negative attitude towards the patient may affect their mental health and is an alarm for mental health team workers and healthcare policymakers.

Burnout Behaviors

Burnout behaviors are similar to that of those with stress and depression. Some common symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Feeling irritable, helpless, blue, and hopeless
  • Getting sick more often
  • Irritability
  • Physical and emotional exhaustion 
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Feeling of hurting the person you are caring for or yourself

Balancing Caregiving

Work can be rewarding, and so would caregiving. But doing both could be a demanding situation. You may feel that you have more on your plate than you can deal with on some days.

Here are some ways to balance caregiving and work:

  • Get organized and create a family calendar, so everyone is on the same page. It also helps to track doctor’s appointments and activities.
  • Try and keep work and caregiving separate.
  • You may have to leave work early at certain times. Ensure you keep a backup plan ready so that your colleague may help fill in your role at work if needed. 
  • Communicate with your boss about your caregiving responsibilities and assure them that it will not affect the work.
  • Enquire about flexible work policies that will allow you some freedom when your loved one needs immediate attention.

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.

Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

Warning Symptoms

There are certain warning symptoms that you may face before burnout. Watch them and take necessary precautions to combat them. Some of them are:

  • Avoiding people
  • Exhaustion
  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • lack of energy
  • A feeling of losing control of your life
  • Neglecting your health and needs
  • Losing interest in things you do

When burnout occurs, it may result in both emotional and physical symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Change in appetite; increased or decreased
  • Change in weight; increased or decreased
  • Body aches
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent headaches
  • Weakened immune system, which may cause frequent infections

Emotional Symptoms

  • Being argumentative or angry
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Constant worry
  • Feeling helpless
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Impatience
  • Depression
  • Lacking motivation
  • Isolating yourself
  • Lack of interest in things you once loved

You may also develop negative behaviors, such as neglecting your duties and losing your temper.

If the burnout progresses and anxiety or depression worsens, a caretaker may indulge in drugs or alcohol, or other stimulants to manage the symptoms. This may cause impairment and increases the risk of harm to the patient. It is a crucial condition, and the caregiver should not provide care unless they are over the influence of these stimulants.

Professional Caregiver Burnout

Professional caregivers assist in helping patients so that they can live as independently as possible. While the job can be rewarding, it can cause you to burn out if you are not prepared or take measures to combat both physical and emotional stress.

Some symptoms that be indicative of the condition are:

  • Quick to cry and tearful
  • Sleep problems, either sleeping too much or little
  • Fatigue, which doesn’t get better after a good night’s rest
  • Unintended weight gain or loss
  • Persistent feelings of sadness

Caregiver Fatigue

Caregiver fatigue is when the caregiver feels emotionally or physically exhausted, resulting in a change of attitude. Often, one may also develop negative feelings toward the care recipient and job, causing resentment.

Neglecting this physical and mental state and allowing stress to stay for long can result in burnout. It is essential to remember that if you cannot take care of yourself, it will be impossible to take care of others.

What To Do After Being A Caregiver

Here are some tips that can help you cope:

  • Ask for help whenever needed
  • Use coping mechanisms such as maintaining a journal
  • Allow yourself some time to grieve
  • Join a support group
  • Take care of your health
  • Embrace new routines
  • Find fulfilling activities
  • Choose new responsibilities carefully
  • Pay close attention to your feelings and needs
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Maintain sleep schedule
  • Take regular breaks
  • Talk to other caregivers

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.

Other Solutions for Caregiver Burnout

It is essential to be aware of burnout signs and take care of yourself if you find any. Some simple solutions include:

  • Be honest with yourself and accept what you can do and what you cannot
  • Communicate frequently with other caregivers and learn from their experience
  • Take regular breaks and do things you enjoy
  • Do not shy away from taking support
  • Take care of your health
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Be a regular part of social activities
  • Take part in support groups
  • Consider respite care

Manage Caregiving Burnout

Caregiving burnout is a common occurrence. But the good news is that there is something you can do about it:

  • An excellent way to manage burnout is to change your mindset. The leading cause of your burnout could be your mindset that caregiving should take most of your time. The irony is relaxing and recharging your batteries will help you think better and keep a positive attitude.
  • Find ways to give more time to yourself and take regular breaks.

Best Qualities to Look for In A Great Caregiver

It may be challenging to get the best caregiver. Here are some qualities to look for in a great caregiver:

  • Has a positive attitude
  • Takes initiative
  • Yearns to create a deep relationship
  • Can maintain patience
  • Focuses on what their patient can do

Long-Distance Caregiving

If you stay an hour or more away from the person needing your care, you might wonder how to go about it. Here are some tips that can help you get started:

  • Educate yourself about the medical condition and how it may progress
  • Try to get in-home care services and daytime services
  • Make yourself available and provide emotional support
  • Call, write, or do a video call or any gesture that allows you to be in touch with the relative
  • Visit them often and spend as much time as possible
  • Mange their medical bills and insurance
  • Plan regular conference calls between you, the person you would be caring for, and healthcare professionals

Burnout Raising the Risk of Chronic Depression, Hypertension, Diabetes, Stroke

Caregiving burnout is associated with chronic stress. If left unattended, chronic stress can create a state of inflammation in your body. This state of inflammation may increase your risk of chronic depression, hypertension diabetes stroke, and other health conditions.

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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