Caregivers provide an essential and undervalued service to society. Without professional and casual careers, there’d be nobody to see to the needs and wellbeing of the vulnerable.
Due to the nature of caregiving work, much emphasis is, of course, placed on the needs of the receiver. However, the needs of the caregiver are often overlooked. As a caregiver, failing to prioritize your own needs can have dire consequences for you and your charge.
It’s therefore vitally important to be aware of the signs of caregiver burnout and to make sure you get the downtime you need between working hours.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Many caregivers are responsible for every task a person cannot perform for themselves. Depending on the level needed, this can involve a variety of highly demanding jobs that can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. This is to be expected, as caregiving is a demanding job, and it is only natural for it to take a toll on your reserves.
A burnout, however, is a culmination of too many days spent giving more energy, both emotional and physical, than you have to offer. It is not always easy to admit to yourself that caring for a client or loved one is a burden that comes with several stressors.
Nobody wants to think of a vulnerable person as a source of stress because, after all, they can’t help it. It is, however, essential to acknowledge the strain that comes with caregiving so that you can look after your own needs as well as those of your charge. You may be a caregiver, but you are still human, and you cannot provide care if your own internal resources are always depleted.
In cases of caregiver burnout, you may feel physically and emotionally exhausted from the constant strain of looking after your charge. This can compound further if they are a loved one, as the perceived obligation to be there for them can easily override any concern for your own wellbeing.
During burnout, a caregiver often lacks the resources and energy to provide adequate self-care, leading to symptoms such as malnutrition, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, and more. You may feel as though you’re unsupported and alone in your mission to care for your charge.
You may even begin to resent your client or loved one, creating an uncomfortable emotional paradox that can lead to severe feelings of guilt and shame. It’s vital to remember that this is simply the consequence of getting overworked and overtired, and not a reflection of your character or professionalism. Almost every caregiver experiences this kind of burnout at least once.
How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
● First and foremost, acknowledge and respect your own limitations. We are all only human and capable of a finite amount of care before we need to tend to our own needs. This is not a character flaw; it’s a natural and healthy mechanism to keep ourselves in balance.
● Get regular sleep. The importance of this is impossible to overstate. Sleep facilitates countless essential processes in our bodies and brains. Without sufficient sleep, the mental, emotional, and physical toll of your caregiving will feel progressively more burdensome until you can no longer carry on. Work out a sleep schedule that affords you 7-9 hours of uninterrupted rest and stick to it.
● Eat nutritious food. When so much of your time is spent looking after the health and comfort of others, one of the first things to slip is your own nutrition. With so many quick and convenient fast-food options available, it can be tempting to opt for ease over quality. If you don’t often have the time or freedom to cook regular healthy meals for yourself, try cooking and freezing a variety of nutritious dishes that you can heat up at a moment’s notice.
● Get help when you need it. Especially if you are providing voluntary care for a loved one or have to cope with heavy mobility equipment and around-the-clock special needs. Professional caregivers, while just as susceptible to burnout, have set working hours and colleagues to share the burden. If you are caring for a loved one at home, make sure you have others to call on when you need a break.
● Take frequent breaks. You need time in between working hours to rest and recuperate. If you feel yourself beginning to take too much strain, call for support and take some downtime. Even if it’s half an hour in the middle of the day.
● Spend time with supportive friends and family. Humans are social creatures, and spending time in good company is an essential part of the restorative process. Speak to them about your burden and allow yourself to enjoy being social, even if all you can face is some tea and casual conversation in your living room.
● Get professional help if you notice signs of caregiver burnout. Speaking to a counselor, therapist, or doctor can often ameliorate feelings of guilt by validating your exhaustion. They can also offer you tailored coping strategies and suggest appropriate recourse in severe cases.
Caring For Yourself Equips You To Care For Others
You can only care for a client or loved one as well as you care for yourself. Access to support and resources vary from situation to situation. But taking what time you can to look after yourself is always in the best interests of those you care for. If you think you may be suffering from caregiver burnout, seek help from a healthcare professional as soon as you can.
Developing effective and sustainable strategies for shouldering the burden of caregiving is essential, especially in long-term care.
If you are unsure where to start, the National Institute of Health, the Family Caregiver Alliance, and the Caregiver Action Network have a wealth of information and resources available online, as well as local support networks you can tap into when necessary.
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Guest Blog Written by Donna Jefferson for Caring Transitions, Stacey Himler (Owner of Caring Transitions of Southern Delaware)
Get in touch: SHimler@caringtransitions.com