Whether you’re a professional caregiver or you’re caring for your own loved ones, you are susceptible to caregiver stress and burnout. Caregiving can be a very rewarding experience. It allows us the opportunity to truly impact and improve the quality of life for someone else. However, it can also be a very demanding job, both emotionally and physically. In order to maintain caregiving as a rewarding experience, it is important to understand the primary causes of caregiver stress and burnout, know what symptoms to look for, and to learn preventative measures. Being aware will allow you to provide the best care and keep yourself healthy while cultivating your personal relationships.
What Causes Caregiver Stress and Burnout?
There are several factors that contribute to caregiver stress and burnout. Whether you are getting paid to do so or not, caregiving is just like any other job in the fact that it can be quite demanding, stressful, and draining. Below, we’ll discuss some of the key causes of stress and burnout.
Throughout our life, we are taught that if we work hard at something, we’ll succeed; that if we do everything right, things will get better. Unfortunately, this is not always the case when caring for someone with a progressive or terminal condition. It can be extremely frustrating to do everything you can for someone and see no improvement. The best way to manage expectations is to determine what you have control over and what you don’t. Many times, we need to try and understand what the best outcome is and simply provide the best quality of life possible at that time.
Forgetting About Yourself
Because caregivers are by nature selfless people, they tend to focus on the needs of the ones they are caring for and sometimes forget to understand their own needs. Caregiving can be just as demanding as a full-time job, sometimes more so. It is quite common for caregivers to start feeling an absolute sense of responsibility for the well-being of the one they are caring for. This leads to feelings of guilt when taking time for themselves away from the care recipient. In order to provide the best care, you must realize your limits, not be afraid to ask for help, and take time for yourself to recoup, focus on your interests, and everything else we do when recovering from a demanding work week.
Taking on Too Much
Both professional caregivers and family caregivers are susceptible to taking on too much responsibility. The full-time caregiver may often feel that they can work 7-days a week, much like a family caregiver often does. This doesn’t allow for adequate personal time and is highly discouraged. Now add on the stressors of family dynamics, disrupted lifestyles, and added workload and it’s easy to see how a family caregiver can quickly become overburdened. Allowing this to happen can severely impact personal relationships within the family when it is of the utmost importance to have a strong supportive environment. Realize that it’s okay to share the burden and ask for help.
What Are The Symptoms of Caregiver Stress and Burnout?
While “caregiver stress and burnout” may simply appear to be a label for a job-specific stress, there are some very serious symptoms associated with the condition that should be considered. Due to the heightened level of emotional involvement, physical demand, and propensity for the caregiver to put others’ needs in front of their own, caregivers should be very aware that they are at risk for the following:
Anxiety and Depression
Caregivers may become very sensitive to common minor irritations, causing them to overreact and threaten the relationships they have with the ones they are caring for and those around them. These irritations can significantly drain the caregiver of energy and can make them feel run down. American Association of Retired Persons and the Commonwealth Fund have found that 91% of family caregivers in declining health report depression as a major problem. Be aware of feelings of resentment, helplessness, and reduced energy.
The many stressors associated with the responsibilities of being a caregiver may make it difficult to disassociate from the daily routine when it comes time to go to sleep. Unfortunately, this feeling becomes heightened when you need sleep the most. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and American Association of Retired Persons, more than 80% of family caregivers report not having enough sleep. This can seriously impact alertness and your ability to concentrate on tasks. Be aware of forgetfulness, irritability, and chronic tiredness.
Increased Frequency of Common Ailments
Absorbing all these stresses and not taking proper care of your body can significantly weaken your immune system. If you aren’t eating right, resting, and enjoying some of your own extra-curricular activities, you may find yourself more susceptible to common ailments. Be aware of increased frequency of common colds and flus. It stands to reason that the National Alliance for Caregiving found that caregivers identify their health as fair to poor at a rate nearly double compared to the U.S. population as a whole.
Other Signs and Concerns
You may witness other habits forming that are strong indicators of stress and burnout. Some may start drinking or smoking while other fill their need by eating more and ignoring their responsibilities. If you find that the role you once found fulfilling to now give you little satisfaction, it is a good time to reevaluate your approach.
It is important to keep an eye on your health and consider the symptoms described above. If gone unchecked, the result could be more severe, such as an increased risk for heart disease and other serious conditions. The National Institutes of Health have presented many studies that have linked caregiving to psychiatric morbidity, lower perceived health status, elevated blood pressure, and poorer immune function. Needless to say, the care for caregivers is as important as the care they provide to the care recipients.
How Do I prevent Caregiver Stress and Burnout?
We discussed some solutions above, but avoiding caregiver stress and burnout is as simple as the following three steps:
Understand your limits and your abilities to influence the situation
Take time to yourself and maintain your health, energy, and stress level
Ask for help and don’t feel guilty about spreading the responsibilities