Caregivers have an incredible responsibility; one that many caring people choose to do for a living, and it’s also one that many are thrust into unprepared. Whether it’s taking care of a parent, a child, or a spouse, everyone can agree that while this duty is as stressful as it is necessary. As such, many caregivers can become afflicted with a real condition called caregiver burnout, which is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can also change the caregiver’s attitude from positive to negative.
Burnout most often occurs when caregivers aren’t able to get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they can, either physically or fiscally. Burned out caregivers may be fatigued, stressed, anxious, and depressed. Many also have accompanying feelings of guilt if they spend time for themselves instead of caring for their loved ones.
Some symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
- withdrawal from friends and family;
- loss of interest in activities;
- feelings of hopelessness and helplessness;
- changes in appetite and/or weight;
- sleep pattern changes;
- becoming more sickly;
- physical and emotional exhaustion; and
- unusual irritability.
Preventing Caregiver Burnout
There are some things you can do to help prevent caregiver burnout. The most important one is to be realistic with the goals for your caregiving. Set realistic goals, understand that you may need help, and remember to ask for help. Also be realistic with your loved one’s illness, especially with progressive diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and terminal cancer. Don’t forget to be realistic about your own limits.
Next, remember to take care of yourself. Find someone to talk to about your feelings and frustrations, talk to a professional, or join a caregiver support group. Always, always set aside at least an hour or two a day for yourself. Don’t think of it as being selfish, because in reality, it’s a necessity.
In addition, understand that your feelings of frustration are normal. They do not make you a bad person or caregiver. Bottling them in and never venting to others is the unhealthy option that can lead to burnout.
If You Have Caregiver Burnout or Know Someone Else Who Does
If you or someone you know is a caregiver and is already suffering from stress and depression, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Both stress and depression are treatable.
Next step: contact outside resources for assistance. These can include home health services, adult day care, private care aides, professional caregivers, caregiver support services, and nursing homes or assisted living facilities.