The demands involved in caring for an elderly loved one can add up quickly, leaving a family caregiver exhausted and stressed out. Over time, the cumulative effect of caregiver stress can wreak havoc on both physical and mental health.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that leads to a negative sentiment towards the provision of care or the care recipient. The cumulative impact of dealing with the burden of providing care for an ill or aged family member leaves many family caregivers with high levels of stress, fatigue, and ultimately chips away at their own health and well-being.
Causes of Caregiver Burnout
Family caregivers often take on the role of providing care without planning, preparation or training. What often starts as an immediate response to help a family member with illness or injury turns into an unexpected long-term role. The work load, especially for primary caregivers who don't have outside support, becomes overwhelming. Additionally, family caregivers are often dealing with a shift in long-standing relationship dynamics when caring for a parent or spouse. The changes brought on by assuming the role of caregiver can add a great deal of strain to personal relationships.
As fatigue and frustration mounts, caregivers often find themselves bordering on burnout. If you find yourself noticing any of the following warning signs, take action to reduce stress, find respite care and seek help from your doctor to protect your own well-being.
7 Signs of Caregiver Burnout
- Isolation & Withdrawal
If you discover that you consistently don’t want to interact with people, especially close family and friends, it could be a sign that caring for your elderly loved one is becoming too draining.
- Loss of Interest in Activities
If you’ve lost interest in your favorite hobbies and pastimes, it may indicate that you need a break from caregiving.
- Feeling Overwhelmed & Hopeless
Thoughts of hopelessness, suicide or hurting your elderly loved one are dangerous warning signs of extreme burnout and probable depression. You should immediately seek help from a mental health professional if you find yourself having violent thoughts. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 and provides free and confidential support and resources to individuals in distress.
- Changes in Mood
If you find that you are normally even tempered and now respond irritably or with a quick temper, or were once easy going and now can't find happiness you may need to take a step back. Trust your emotional state to be a good guage as to your current stress level.
- Change in Eating Patterns
Abnormal eating patterns—whether it’s eating too much or not enough—can be symptoms of extreme stress. Many caregivers experience emotional eating and reach for comfort foods as a way of soothing negative feelings. Others are so wrought with stress that they lose their appetites and hardly eat at all. Digestive issues may accompany changes in appetite as well.
- Change in Sleep Patterns
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, difficulty staying asleep or a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, you may be feeling the effects of caregiver burden.
- Changes in Health
Stress can devastate your immune system, especially over the long term. Illnesses that last longer than they should are a sign of compromised immune function that could be due to your caregiving duties. In addition to drawing out temporary illnesses, chronic stress can also contribute to serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and gastrointestinal disorders.
Preventing Caregiver Burnout
The keys to combatting caregiver burnout are self-awareness and self-care. Both you and your care recipient will suffer if you’ve lost the interest or ability to provide quality care. Learning to recognize the signs of burnout is the first step in acknowledging that the demands on your time, energy and resources is impacting your overall well-being. Start the restorative process by developing some self-care strategies to help you de-stress and prioritizing respite care so you can take breaks from caregiving. After all, caregivers need care too.
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