When my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, there was no question about who would care for her. I am an only child and vowed to care for her every step of her treatment. Needless to say, I heavily underestimated a caregiver’s role.
Eight months down the line, I was a fatigued echo of the person I had been at the start. I struggled with sleep, developed IBS, and barely had any social life left. I was suffering from caregiver burnout.
Caring for someone else, such as a special needs child, parent, or partner, can be overwhelming. Most caregivers barely have enough time to cater to their well-being, which can lead to fatigue and burnout.
Caregiver burnout usually occurs in the form of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion resulting from caring for an ailing loved one for a prolonged period. Caregivers experiencing chronic stress, financial strain, and overwhelming responsibilities may neglect their health. This can lead to feelings of fatigue, irritability, isolation, and declining mental and physical health, which are all signs that the caregiver needs help too!
Understanding the symptoms of caregiver burnout can help you or a caregiver you know to prevent burnout and extreme fatigue and find helpful resources for relief.
Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
For caregivers experiencing burnout for the first time, it can be debilitating. You may even feel guilty for experiencing fatigue. However, remember nobody is perfect, caregiving is emotionally and physically exhausting, and you are doing your best.
Sometimes, caregiver fatigue is confused with a similar result of caring for someone else: compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue can also be called secondary trauma.
As a caregiver, you may have moments of overwhelming anger, fear, sadness, and helplessness. These feelings can make you moody, irritable, impatient, and withdrawn. These are the most common symptoms of compassion fatigue.
How to Recognize Caregiver Fatigue
Caregivers are constantly under immense pressure to care for themselves and those who depend on them. Since they are used to constant strain, they may not immediately notice burnout symptoms. Here are some early warning signs to look out for if you suspect burnout fatigue:
- Irritability and persistent depressive periods — constantly feeling moody and blue
- Inability to enjoy previously satisfying activities such as hobbies or interacting with other family members
- Persistent illnesses that may indicate chronic stress, such as digestive problems, headaches, and high blood pressure
- Unexplained weight gain due to an increase in cortisol levels
- The inability to sleep or oversleeping
- Social isolation and lack of interest in spending time with friends
Here Are Some Effective Strategies for Dealing With Caregiver Stress
Prioritize Your Health
It may be hard to prioritize your health when juggling caregiver responsibilities. However, the well-being of your dependent is directly linked to the condition of your physical and mental health.
You can use free tools like this self-care checklist to create a simple routine that is easy to stick to. Your new routine can involve a wellness exercise, journaling, or a brisk walk to replenish your energy levels. It’s never too late to pour into yourself to better care for your loved one.
Isolation is a major contributor to burnout for informal caregivers. It can be challenging to maintain a social life when you are always on the clock shouldering caregiver responsibilities.
Support can come from friends and family or more formal settings such as respite programs and caregiver support services. Caregiver support groups also come in handy in these situations. Find a local support group to connect with others who intimately understand your struggle due to first-hand experience.
Simply sharing your everyday challenges with people in the same boat can help alleviate feelings of loneliness. Together, we rise and change. Being a part of these groups can help you find practical advice and resources to lessen your burden.
Delegate Some Tasks
First-time family caregivers may underestimate the intense pressure of caring for others. Caregiving can be as demanding as a full-time job and can take a toll on all aspects of your life.
Consider delegating certain tasks to other family members, such as grocery shopping or picking up medication. In some instances, private aides can alleviate caregiving stress by freeing up much-needed time.
Find some time during the day to take a breather. Taking a quick break from your caregiving responsibilities to enjoy little moments can significantly affect your mental health. Consider spending half an hour talking to a close friend or watching your favorite show.
Periodically step outside, soak in the sun, look at the sky, and listen to the birds chirping or kids playing. Breaks alone may not prevent burnout, but taking a moment to appreciate the natural beauty and wonders around you can lessen your mental exhaustion.
Learn More About Your Loved One’s Illness
Learning more about your loved one’s ailment helps you understand what’s happening and what to expect. It also equips you with the right tools to better care for them and know what to do when their health changes.
Anticipating and preparing for the needs of your charge can inform your caregiving responsibilities. You can learn more about their illness from your caregiver support group, primary doctors, local organizations such as the Family Caregiver Alliance, or from reputable sources online.
Consider Seeking Out Professional Help
Caregiver fatigue may go beyond the scope of what you can handle alone. Fortunately, many resources such as home health services, respite care services, and mental health professionals are available to assist with caregiver stress.
Remember, these professionals have assisted hundreds in similar situations. They are equipped to help with caregiver burnout so you can continue caring for your loved one. Don’t hesitate to reach out. You’re not alone!