By Dylan Babb
Community Outreach Manager, CarePartners
Have you unexpectedly become a caregiver? Are you now caring for a loved one after injury/illness/etc. and feeling burnt out?
Caregiver burnout is a condition of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that can happen when family caregivers don’t get the support they need or if they take on more than they are able. This physical, financial and emotional stress can lead to fatigue, anxiety and depression. As you would imagine, the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to stress and depression. But, while some of the signs maybe obvious, other signs of burnout may look different than you expected.
- You are riding a rollercoaster of emotions – When someone asks you “How are you doing?” you aren’t sure how to answer because your mood changes moment to moment. This morning you might have been feeling okay, but stepping into your car you feel like the world may come crashing down. You might be feeling sad, irritable, hopeless and helpless all at once. Many people can get overwhelmed when they suddenly find themselves in the role of a caregiver. It’s important to set realistic goals and expectations. Getting connected to support groups and talking to a trusted friend can be critical to your well-being.
- You catch every bug or you can’t seem to shake that cold – It’s possible that your sleep patterns have changed. Maybe you are up all night or perhaps sleeping extra-long hours trying to make up for the exhaustion. You might have noticed changes in your weight or appetite. All of these issues along with the constant stress and anxiety of caregiving can exhaust your immune system making your body more susceptible to illness, or making it harder for you to recover. Maybe you’ve been so focused on someone else, that you haven’t even payed attention to your own health. Check in with your primary care physician and talk to them about your symptoms.
- You can’t remember when you last did something for yourself: exercise, see a friend, go to a movie – With such a full load of responsibilities, it’s easy to feel like you can’t (or shouldn’t) take time for yourself. It might also be true that you are withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities that you once enjoyed. While it may feel impossible to make time for yourself, it’s important to take a break. This doesn’t mean stepping out to run errands or do chores. Taking a break might mean a few minutes to enjoy a cup of tea or talking to a friend on the phone.
- You are the only go-to person – If you are caring for a loved one and you are constantly planning, organizing and researching, it may seem like your entire life revolves around caregiving. When you feel like you are the only person in the room that can help it’s easy to feel constantly exhausted. You can’t be the only one, you will need to reach out to family, friends, neighbors or elsewhere for assistance. Many caregivers are frustrated by a lack of resources, money or skills to effectively manage their loved one’s care. It’s important to ask for help when you can and talk to a professional.
- You are snapping at everyone or losing your temper –When you started this journey as a caregiver you might have been sure that you could be patient and kind, but now you find yourself irritable and increasingly distant. It’s also possible that you have trouble focusing; tasks that used to take a couple of minutes are endless because you can’t seem to focus on getting it done. Know your limits and be honest with yourself.
Strategies to help
Feeling better takes time, you are not going to “snap out” of burnout or depression. If you can, get direct assistance: respite relief, home care or adult day care. Find support groups and classes that can help you to learn effective coping strategies and solve problems. Taking time to care for yourself is critical for your health and the health of the people you care for.
CarePartners offers many of these resources including adult day care, overnight respite, private duty care, home health care, a caregivers support group and more.
Dylan Babb is the Community Outreach Manager for CarePartners.