Stepping into the role of caregiver for a parent or spouse is an act of love. Often, informal or unpaid caregivers are simply family or friends of an individual who have stepped up to answer the call. And while many people gain fulfillment from caring for a loved one, it is also common for them to have a significant amount of added stress and physical strain. If you are caring for a family member or friend, you might feel guilty about taking a step back from the responsibilities you have assumed.
However, if you are not mindful of your health and emotional well-being today, you can significantly jeopardize your future health. A study of informal caregivers found that the demand of caregiving has led to a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
Anxiety or Depression – While we all might wish there were more hours in a day, if you have a higher than normal anxiety to get things accomplished, worrying that enough time is simply not available, you may be approaching burnout.
Similarly, you may begin to feel a sense of helplessness and might feel alone at times. You may not wish to see family or friends, or might withdraw from activities you once enjoyed.
Fatigue – It is not uncommon for everyone to feel tired throughout the course of a day, but it is critical to understand where tired stops and burnout begins. Signs to watch for include: you find you have much less energy than you used to on a consistent basis; or, despite sleeping or taking a nap, you still wake up feeling exhausted.
Insomnia – Caregivers not only have trouble feeling rested after sleep, but burnout can often lead to insomnia. You might feel tired, but cannot sleep, or you might consistently wake up in the middle of the night after stressful dreams.
Anger – Burnout can lead to a shift in the way you act toward the person for whom you are providing care. Are you yelling or struggling to control your emotions around the person in your care? Are impatience and irritability at an all-time high? Is it difficult to improve your mood?
Setbacks –If you are experiencing burnout, you might find yourself focusing more on your loved one’s needs than to other important areas of your life, including relationships and your career. Life seems to revolve around caregiving, but it gives little satisfaction or sense of accomplishment anymore.
Watch for a decline in your personal health. If you are experiencing burnout, you may often feel like you are catching every bug or illness going around. The exhaustion, emotional, and physical challenges of trying to balance both your personal life and your caregiving role can increase risk of illness and injury.
Respite Care –Taking a break to refresh and reset can be a great benefit. Respite care from a trusted in-home caregiving service such as Senior Home Companions can provide the quality care your loved one deserves, while you find escape in activities that will reduce your overall stress level and fight burnout.
Controllables –Do you find yourself working against factors that are simply out of your control? Instead of putting energy into changing the things beyond your influence, identify what you can control and celebrate even the smallest of victories, such as making your loved one feel safe or bringing a smile to their face.
Responsibilities – There is often stress among family members about each person’s role, and how much each person can – or “should” – help out. Organize a family meeting to outline the support needed, and divide out responsibilities to as many helping hands as possible. Offloading the smallest of tasks from the long list of duties can have a significant impact on overall stress levels.
Habits – Focus on making healthy habits a part of your daily routine to prevent burnout. Exercise can be a powerful tool against stress. Options abound, from taking a walk to high-intensity sports. For a more relaxing approach, try meditation or yoga to boost positive emotions and relax over-worked muscles.
If you are responsible for providing care and are concerned about approaching burnout, Senior Home Companions can help. We can give you the break you deserve, or simply supplement your existing caregiving routine to lighten the load. By taking care of yourself, you can better care for others.