America has more people needing care than the 4.5 million professional caregivers can provide. A recent national poll revealed that over 50 percent of people age 50 and older identify as caregivers or helpers. While most caregivers find it rewarding, there are many challenges.
First, the Happier Side of Caregiving
Many caregivers find they have a gift for anticipating people’s needs. They enjoy the sense of purpose that comes with helping someone they love. And the relationship between caregiver and patient can improve as feelings of trust and closeness increase. As rewarding as caregiving can be, we also know how draining it can sometimes become.
Too Many Demands on Time & Energy
Over half of family caregivers spend 40 or more hours a week providing care, whether cooking, cleaning, or assisting with daily activities. It is typical to be tired and even cranky at times, with all the physical and mental demands on you as a caregiver.
Many home caregivers also have children, jobs outside the home, or both. No wonder they’re called the “sandwich generation,” as both younger and older relatives demand time and energy.
Be aware of signs indicating that you have been pushed too far and need to rest and recuperate. If you have begun to feel negative, hopeless, anxious, and depressed in your role as a caregiver, you may be experiencing caregiver burnout.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
Burnout occurs when caregivers don’t get the help and respite they need to reset their physical, emotional, and mental energy. You feel exhausted, no matter how much sleep you get.
There are other signs of caregiver burnout, including:
- Lack of energy or overwhelming fatigue
- Difficulty coping with everyday things
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits
- Feeling unusually impatient, irritable, angry, or argumentative
- Withdrawing from activities you once enjoyed
- Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
- Experiencing anxiety about the future
- Depression or mood swings
- Physical ailments, including headache or stomach pain
Caregivers sometimes feel guilty about taking time for themselves. This is particularly true when you live with the people you care for. However, as Aimee R., a former hospice aide, noted, “If you do not take the time to care for yourself, you will not be able to care for others.”
Tips for Preventing Caregiver Burnout
Set realistic expectations and goals for your day.
Prioritize activities and make peace by leaving some responsibilities for another day or the next shift. Be realistic about what your family member or patient can achieve, given their age, health, and abilities.
If you are the spouse, adult child, or sibling of the person you give care to, the boundaries between your role as relative and home health aide become blurred. No one should be expected to work around the clock, even to help someone they love.
Schedule breaks and downtime.
Prioritize breaks during the day when you can sit and have a coffee, go for a walk, or talk to a friend. Schedule a vacation (even if you don’t go anywhere) by having a friend or paid caregiver fill in for you.
Utilize available resources for yourself or your loved one.
Aimee recommends seeking support from your employer’s assistance program, local hospice, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. These can make a world of difference when you feel overwhelmed.
Have a healthy release from stress.
Prioritize caring for your body and mind: a healthy diet, finding a form of movement that you enjoy, getting enough rest, and engaging in an activity that gives you joy.
If you believe you are experiencing caregiver burnout, these tips can help you feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Caring for a dying loved one often brings additional stress if they have not made end-of-life plans. Talk to a doctor, attorney, or ShareLife family care advisor on steps you can take to help you through these challenging times.