How to Deal With Caregiver Burnout
Tips to Avoid Getting Burnt out
There are very real costs in terms of the physical, emotional and financial toll caregiving takes on a person. With a population that’s remaining alive much longer, the chances are pretty good that you’ll find yourself, at some point, in the role of caregiver.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, over 52 million Americans are already caregivers for a parent, spouse, sibling, child or friend.
The dollar value of services provided by caregivers for which they were not paid amounts to over $360 billion dollars annually, according to a study conducted by AARP.
While there are lots of different levels of caregiving — everything from doing the shopping, acting as financial manager, driving, cooking and cleaning — they all have one thing in common:
At some point you will feel the caregiver burnout.
What then? How do you deal with it? How can you recognize the symptoms before they become overwhelming?
What may have started out as a couple hours a week for you has turned into a full-time job — what happens to you, your personal life, and to your sanity?
What Is Caregiver Burnout and What Are the Signs?
According to WebMD, “Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.”
It comes about when caregivers try to do too much financially, physically or emotionally and they’re not getting the help they need. It comes about when the caregiver starts to feel guilty about having “me” time instead of spending all of their time on the person they’re caring for.
The feelings are very similar to the symptoms of depression and stress, which are listed by WebMD as:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless and helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Excessive use of alcohol and/or sleep medications
What Can You Do About It?
If you’re a caregiver and you’re experiencing any or all of these symptoms, there are things you can do. First of all, don’t feel guilty. You have nothing to feel guilty about, but you do need to realize you need help — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
See Your Doctor
The next thing you should do is see your primary care physician. Tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Be completely honest about how you’re feeling.
Your doctor may know community resources that are available to help you. In any case, you need to get checked out to ensure there are no medical conditions setting off symptoms mimicking mental health issues.
Once it’s been determined there’s nothing physical causing your feelings, you need to realize there are things you can do that will help relieve the stress.
Talk to Someone
Venting helps. Find someone you can talk to and share your feelings with honestly. Talk about the things that frustrate you. You can also see a therapist to discuss your feelings with in a judgement-free space.
Call in Reinforcements
Accept the fact that you might need to call in reinforcements to help you care for your loved one. If there are other family members nearby, let them help you share some of the burden.
Be pragmatic about the disease the person you’re caring for suffers from, particularly if it’s something like Alzheimer’s.
My sister’s husband is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and she is his primary caregiver. It breaks my heart to see the man she loves and has been married to for over 50 years no longer recognize their kids, grandkids…and her.
At first, she did it all herself. As time passed, she accepted she can’t do it all alone. She now takes him to adult daycare one day a week and has in-home help one day a week so she can have the “me” time she needs to refresh herself mentally and physically.
Search for local professional respite care. There are services that can give you a temporary break; everything from coming to your home for a few hours, to arranging a short stay in an assisted living facility or nursing home for the person you’re caring for.
Find a Support Group
Most communities also have caregiver support groups. Think about joining one; you’ll be able to talk about your experiences as a caregiver and how you feel.
Since all of the people there are in the same situation as you, you can be completely honest about what you’re feeling because they understand what you’re going through.
Accept Your Feelings
And last but not least, accept the way you feel. Realize that whatever negative feelings you’re experiencing does not mean you’re a terrible person or horrible caregiver — it only means you’re human.
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