Caregiving is not for the faint of heart. While helping a senior or other loved one navigate a difficult — and sometimes heartbreaking — journey, most family caretakers will experience intense physical and emotional exhaustion. Unfortunately, burnout is a frequent effect of assuming a caregiver role. Understanding the symptoms and causes of burnout is crucial to overcoming or avoiding it.
Understanding Caregiver Burnout
Caregiving is inherently stressful, but burnout is different. Burnout occurs when the caregiver’s exhaustion reaches a point where it begins to interfere with caretaking responsibilities.
Everyone responds differently to highly stressful situations. Caregivers who are experiencing burnout may exhibit some or all these symptoms:
- Feeling isolated or lonely
- Irritability or feelings of uncontrollable anger
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Feeling hopeless
- Apathy or resentment toward the person in their care
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or other coping mechanisms
Many caregivers initially underestimate the intense mental, physical, and emotional demands that the role entails. Some liken the job to caring for a newborn, except that, while a new baby becomes increasingly more independent and less demanding, the opposite is often true of a senior or someone battling a degenerative condition like dementia. New parents are frequently met with sympathy, casseroles, and offers to help. Sadly, the same can’t be said for most caregivers. The stress, demands, and emotional toll of this often-thankless task often trigger burnout symptoms. Other possible contributing factors include:
Shouldering too much responsibility: Caregivers
often unintentionally take on an unsustainable load,
often because they’re not sure where or how to
Lack of training: Few family caregivers are
adequately trained in how to perform their medical
responsibilities or manage difficult situations.
Juggling other roles: Many caregivers are
consumed with crushing guilt that the time and
energy they devote to caretaking negatively affects
their roles as employees, spouses, or parents.
How To Combat Burnout
The first step toward avoiding or overcoming caregiver burnout is recognizing that it’s normal and understanding how it occurs. Since everyone experiences burnout differently, overcoming and avoiding burnout may look different for every person. Assessing and addressing the factors that caused the burnout is an excellent place to start.
Joining and actively participating in caregiver support groups, whether in person or online, reduces stigma and helps caregivers seek and find the care they need. For many caregivers suffering from burnout, seeking and deploying meaningful help dramatically reduces burnout symptoms. Examples might include utilizing respite care, hiring an alternate or associate caregiver, or delegating tasks in other life roles.
If you or a loved one is or may be experiencing caregiver burnout, schedule your free assessment and learn how we can help ease your care burden.