a burnt out caregiver falling asleep while filling out forms

While caring for a loved one can be incredibly rewarding, there are times when it can become very stressful, leading to burnout if you don’t take care of yourself. There are times when stress can become unmanageable, but when you’re devoted to caring for a loved one, it can be easy to neglect your own needs. Would you be able to recognise when it was time to get outside help? In this article, we’ll look at common signs of caregiver’s burnout, and where to turn to get outside help.

What is caregiver’s burnout?

Caregiver burnout is the name used to describe the physical and mental exhaustion that can develop among carers, and is often developed when caregivers try to do more than they can to help their loved one, or aren’t given the help they need for effective caring. Caring for a loved one can often be a long term challenge, changing the family dynamic, adding financial pressure, and additional workload around the house. As a result caregiver burnout can be a real danger, due to the difficulty of adapting to these new challenges.

Burnout can really affect your ability to assist your loved one, so recognising when you need to bring in outside help, even for a short period of time, is essential to ensure you can care for your loved one over the long term.

What are symptoms of caregiver burnout?

There are a number of symptoms you should look out for to identify whether you’re developing burnout. The most noticeable change that burnout brings is a lack of energy. You’ll constantly feel exhausted, with less enthusiasm and energy than before, even after sleeping or taking a break. You may also notice that you’re caring after yourself less, neglecting your own needs because you feel as if you’re too busy to do so, or feel as if there’s no point.

Caregiver burnout can also change your mood. Often, you’ll find it hard to relax and become increasingly impatient. An unfortunate effect of this may be that you’ll take your anger out on the person you’re caring for, becoming irritable with them. Sufferers of caregiver burnout can also feel as if they’re helpless, being stuck in the same day to day routine without an end in sight.

As well as mental effects, there are also physical effects. Stress and burnout affects our immune systems, causing colds, eczema and headaches, among other health problems.

The truth is that once these effects begin taking place, you’re no longer in a fit mental or physical condition to care for another person. It’s essential to keep a check on any symptoms of caregiver burnout and know when to get outside help to keep symptoms from escalating.

What help should you get if you’re showing symptoms?

There are a number of things you can do if you recognise some of the symptoms above. The first step is to recognise when it’s time to take a break. It might be hard to imagine leaving your loved one, but when stress and burnout becomes unmanageable and you’re experiencing the symptoms described above, a break of a week or two can really help you return to health. This is especially true when caring for someone with a long term illness such as alzheimers, which comes with lots of specific needs. The best course of action is to find a local specialist care home that offers respite care, as these will have the knowledge and resources to care for your loved one to a high standard. If you’re showing many of the symptoms described above, then it may be time to have some time off.

Share the load

Getting outside help is also essential after taking a break, or in order to prevent burnout. Make a list of all the areas that you could do with some extra help on, for example picking up groceries, having someone cover you while you go to the cinema or need some time to relax. Then, match that list with friends and family who may be able to assist.

Not only is this a good step to take after having a break from caring, it’s a good idea to regularly keep a mental note of who may be able to help with various activities which can help you manage your responsibilities when there are sudden changes, for example if you fall ill and can’t keep up with caring.

Another time to consider getting help from friends and family is when you’re noticing that your physical health is deteriorating because you’ve not been able to go to the gym, or if you’ve not had time for hobbies or other interests. Having friends and family members to take on some caring jobs can really help you get some time back in order to care for yourself, making it easier to manage your workload. Don’t forget that exercise is an excellent de-stressing tool!

Plan for the future

Another important time to get help from a doctor or expert on your loved one’s illness is whenever their needs are changing. Your loved one may have a variety of needs arising from multiple health problems, and their condition may evolve over time. Make sure you speak to an expert and understand how their needs may change over time, allowing you to adapt and plan for the future. It may be that you can manage on your own now, but what about in six months, a year, or longer?

Understanding your loved one’s future needs can help you ease the pressure of other worries such as finance. Speaking to a doctor may help you plan whether or not your loved one’s care needs will increase, and whether you need to plan for them to get round the clock care at home or in a care home. Planning ahead ensures you have an idea of what’s around the next corner, ensuring you’re not taken by surprise by new caring needs, which may leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Practice positive thinking

While it can feel that you’re failing your loved one if you cannot care for all of their needs, remember that no one’s perfect. It’s important to stay positive in your outlook to manage stress, which can be done by making a list of all the things you’re doing to help your loved one. It can be tough to develop the habit of positive thinking, so start small by thinking of something positive you’ve done before going to bed or as you wake up. Be sure to treat yourself on occasion, even when you’ve achieved small accomplishments, helping you to rediscover the joy in your work.

Wrapping up

As a carer, it’s important to remember that there are people out there to help you when the going gets tough. Hopefully the tips above will help you know when it’s the right time to seek help, as well as keeping these people in mind over the long term to avoid burnout in the long term.

What do you use a sign to signal that you need outside help? Have you had success in dealing with caregiver burnout using the tips above, or have your own advice to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by Seb Atkinson
Seb Atkinson is a writer for the Hallmark Care Homes blog, covering all aspects of care including caring for people with dementia, nursing needs and the elderly.

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9 Comments

  1. Ugh where do I begin…

    Reply
  2. So true! It’s awful!

    Reply
  3. I didn’t know that I had burnout at the time… Well, that explains a few things.

    Reply
  4. Seriously? Place my spouse in a “local specialist care home for respite”? Not every caregiver cares for someone with Alzheimer’s, so respite care isn’t that easy to find and surely isn’t easy to fund. If getting to the grocery store is difficult, how do you think going to the gym or a movie will work out? Look at the responses here, to this article. This kind of advice reads well, but isn’t realistic.

    Reply
  5. some good ideas in theory , but in reality finances are a huge element to my situation . Caring for my husband after a brain infection and major stroke 4 years ago , i am at the mercy of the V.A. for help and money to live off … it’s poverty level but it’s something ! I do it out of love , but have certainly given up my life to do this …

    Reply
  6. Definately easier said than done.

    Reply
  7. Some good ideas in your article .. But some are not the way it actually happens.. And I always see articles referring to going to a gym for exercise … Or no longer going to a gym … To a full time caregiver this is not an option.. We are lucky to get out for groceries and items that are necessary for caregiving .. Also picking up medications..
    Many caregivers are taking care of more than one loved one.
    Nothing goes the same for each caregiver…
    Bless each and every caregiver
    Theresa Loder

    Reply
  8. I agree, this is a great article but what if you are burnt out and have NO family or friends to help? I am a single parent caring for an autistic child who also has SPD,epilepsy, orthopedic issues and JIA.

    Reply
  9. great article..I have burnout..I have some help..but not when I really need it…my life has changed..I feel like I have no life…

    Reply

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