Being responsible for the health and well-being of a loved one can make you forget to take care of yourself. But when your health is at risk, so is the health of your loved one.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout is the experience of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion from caring for someone. The caregiver often feels “drained” and can develop feelings of anxiety and depression.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of caregivers show symptoms of depression.
Some causes of caregiver burnout:
- Difficulty separating roles as a caregiver from roles as a child or spouse
- The condition of people with diseases like Alzheimer’s usually declines and caregivers have little to no control over the progression of the disease
- Many caregivers have limited finances and resources
- Caregivers tend to set unrealistic expectations for themselves
- Caregivers may feel guilty for taking care of themselves
5 signs of caregiver burnout
Signs of caregiver burnout are similar to the signs of depression because they often occur together. While many of the signs of caregiver burnout are also signs of depression, there are a few that are worth discussing in detail.
The most common symptoms of depression are:
- Constant sad or “blue,” mood
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Feeling worthless
- Thoughts of or attempts at self-harm
If you’re experiencing caregiver burnout, you may be feeling sad about your loved one’s diagnosis or progression of Alzheimer’s. Because there is no cure, it’s easy to feel hopeless, and you may feel that nothing you do is good enough or that you’re not an adequate caregiver.
You may also have thoughts of hurting yourself or the person you’re caring for. These feelings may come out of resentment or a need to end the stressful situation.
If you ever have feelings of hurting yourself or someone else, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
One of the most easily recognizable signs of caregiver burnout is fatigue. Fatigue is a feeling of emotional and physical exhaustion. People often refer to this as feeling “worn out” or “drained.”
You may feel this way because of the physical energy spent caring for someone, but you can also feel fatigued from constant worry, anxiety, and stress.
3. Withdrawal from friends, family, and hobbies
Because of your feelings of depression and fatigue, you may withdraw from your friends, family, and hobbies.
You may feel too exhausted to socialize or participate in your favorite activities, or you may feel guilty about the state of your loved one even if their condition is out of your control. Your feelings of helplessness and worthlessness may make it difficult to see what a good job you’re doing.
Caregivers also often feel guilty about spending any time on themselves, including visiting with friends or taking time for hobbies.
4. Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
While it may be common to have a drink after a hard day or take a sleeping pill during a particularly sleepless weekend, you should be mindful of how often you’re doing this and why.
If you find yourself regularly using alcohol, drugs or sleep aids to cope with your feelings or regulate your sleep, you may want to speak with a doctor.
These behaviors may indicate depression and may cause damage to your health.
5. Changes in your health
If you feel like you’re catching every bug going around, you might be experiencing caregiver burnout.
It’s easy to be so concerned with your loved one’s health that you forget to take care of yourself.
You may notice you’re getting sick more often or taking longer to recover from colds or other illnesses. Your sleep schedule may become irregular, and you may begin eating significantly more or less than usual. These changes in your regular habits often lead to quick changes in weight.
It’s normal to occasionally miss a meal, sleep late one day or fluctuate a few pounds in your weight. When you notice significant changes happening quickly or often, you may need to speak with a doctor.
How do I prevent caregiver burnout?
When caring for someone else, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the situation. If your loved one has dementia, there isn’t anything you can do to cure this person. Your job is to make them comfortable and help care for them in ways they can’t care for themselves. It’s important to understand that the progression of their dementia is not a sign of poor caregiving on your part.
Take a break
To prevent caregiver burnout, you must know your limits. Schedule regular breaks into your day or week to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed.
For example, set aside half an hour a day for personal time or do an activity that makes you happy. Have back up caregivers like other family members or respite care to allow you time off.
It’s easy to miss a meal or workout when you’re responsible for someone else’s health and well-being. But keep in mind that you have to stay healthy in order to care for someone else. Make sure you’re eating healthy meals, exercising, getting enough sleep and visiting the doctor regularly.
Ask for help
Make sure you have an outlet to talk about any frustrations or feelings of depression, whether that’s a friend, family member or professional.