It's easy to understand how it can happen. You go all out to take care of your loved one, but miss the signs that you're pushing yourself too hard. Before you know it, exhaustion, stress, and other symptoms of burnout start to take hold.
Learn the warning signals so you can keep yourself healthy while you give your loved one the help he needs.
What Are the Symptoms?
They're similar to the ones for stress and depression. You may notice some of these things happening to you:
- Withdraw from friends and family
- Lose interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feel blue and irritable
- Have a change in your appetite or weight
- Your sleep patterns get out of whack
- Get sick more often
You may have an overall sense of emotional and physical exhaustion.
What Causes It?
A lot of times it can start when you're so busy as a caregiver that you neglect your own emotional and physical health. And it's not surprising why this can happen. The demands of taking care of your loved one might seem overwhelming at times, and bring on fatigue and a feeling of hopelessness.
Other causes of caregiver burnout you need to watch out for include:
Expectations are too high: Like a lot of caregivers, you may think your efforts will have a big, positive impact on your loved one's health and happiness -- but this may not always be realistic.
Lack of control: Many caregivers become frustrated if they don't have the money, resources, and skills to plan, manage, and organize their loved one's care.
Put unreasonable demands on yourself: Sometimes you take on more caregiving responsibilities than you can handle.
How Can I Avoid Burnout?
Take steps to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed:
Confide in someone you trust. Talk to a friend, coworker, or neighbor about your feelings and frustrations.
Set realistic goals for yourself. Accept that you may need help with caregiving, and turn to others for help with some tasks.
Don't forget about yourself. Though you're busy caring for someone else, set aside time for your own needs, even if it's just an hour or two. Keep in mind that taking care of yourself isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.
Take advantage of respite care services. It can give you a temporary break. This can range from a few hours of in-home care for your loved one to a short stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Know your limits. Do a "reality-check" of your personal situation. Recognize and accept your potential for burnout.
Educate yourself. The more you know about the illness of your loved one, the better able you'll be to take care of him.
Take a new approach. Remember to lighten up and look for the positive side of things. Use humor to help deal with everyday stress.
Stay healthy. Make sure you eat right and get plenty of exercise and sleep.
Accept your feelings. It's normal to sometimes get frustrated or angry about your responsibilities. It doesn't mean you're a bad person or a bad caregiver.
Where Can I Turn for Help?
If you're a caregiver and you're stressed, talk to your doctor or another health professional. Most therapists, social workers, and clergy are trained to counsel people who are dealing with a wide range of physical and emotional issues. Anxiety, depression, and other problems can be treated.
If you want to avoid burnout, check out some of these resources that can help you with caregiving:
Home health services: These agencies provide home health aides and nurses for short-term care if your loved one is ill. Some agencies provide short-term respite care as well.
Adult day care: These programs offer a place for seniors to socialize, enjoy a variety of activities, and get medical care and other services.
Nursing homes or assisted living facilities: They sometimes offer short-term respite stays to give you a break from your caregiving duties.
Private care aides: They're professionals who specialize in figuring out your loved one's caregiving needs and coordinate care and services.
Caregiver support services: These are support groups and other programs that can help you recharge your batteries, manage stress, meet others who are facing similar situations, and help you find more information and locate other resources.
Agency on Aging: Contact your local agency for a nearby chapter of the AARP to learn about services in your area such as adult day care services, caregiver support groups, and respite care.