CDPAP caregivers have very difficult jobs and they’re rarely financially compensated for their work. As a result, it’s only natural that they experience stress from time to time. However, when that stress gets out of control, it can lead to serious health problems.

“Caregiver burnout” (sometimes called “compassion fatigue”) happens when a caregiver is in a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. When these problems are ignored, they can become chronic and lead to a reduced quality of life.

Below, we’ll discuss what this burnout looks like, some of its causes, and ways caregivers can protect and heal themselves when things get tough.

What is caregiver burnout?

When a caregiver experiences burnout, it’s important to recognize and treat it. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a warning that a caregiver may need more help than they currently receive.

When they’re burned out, caregivers can feel overwhelmed, unhappy, and even unable to perform their role to the best of their ability. This can in turn lead to feelings of frustration, stress, anxiety, and guilt, which only compounds feelings of burnout.

It’s important to ask for help if you spot these signs of burnout in yourself or another caregiver:

Signs of caregiver burnout

Burnout can look different in everyone. But there are some common signs that you should pay attention to if you are feeling stressed out since they might indicate that you need to get some care for yourself – sooner rather than later.

These signs include (but are not limited to):

·         Insomnia or other sleep problems

·         Irritability and mood changes

·         Social withdrawal

·         Change in appetite

·         Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness

·         Getting sick more often

·         Chronic tiredness and exhaustion

·         Loss of interest in hobbies

·         Crying easily and often

·         Unhealthy coping methods such as alcohol or drug abuse

These signs may sound familiar because they overlap with depression. But while we don’t fully understand what causes depression, there are some obvious causes of caregiver burnout.

These tough jobs demand a lot of people physically, emotionally, and even financially.

Causes of caregiver burnout

If you look at all that’s expected from caregivers, it’s no surprise that they can suffer as a result of the pressure of caring for another person. This is especially the case when someone is a sole caregiver or who was thrust into the position unexpectedly as many loved ones are.

It’s hard to be responsible for someone else’s wellbeing, and caregivers tending to friends or loved ones understandably feel sad to see their health declining.

Causes of burnout also include:

–          Bearing the financial burden of having to cut down on work hours

–          A tendency to feel guilty when things don’t go perfectly

–          Having too many tasks to balance

–          Finding caregiving duties more difficult than originally imagined

–          Added responsibilities when patients/clients’ health declines

–          Unrealistic expectations of your own perfection or the way a day should unfold

–          An inadequate support system (for example, no one else to rely on when you need to take a break)

–          Insufficient training in caring for the specific needs of a loved one

All caregivers have these problems and feelings sometimes. But the longer this goes on, the more serious a caregiver’s burnout can get.

Timeline of caregiver burnout

It’s important to pay attention (even by keeping a journal or tracking signs and symptoms on your phone) to how often you experience feelings of burnout. Even if it’s short-lived, there can be health consequences for the caregiver.

At 1-18 Months

At the beginning of a descent into burnout, a caregiver may:

–          Be concerned about the responsibilities of providing long-term care (as opposed to acute care)

–          Feel anxious to provide the best possible care and put in more energy than is necessary or healthy for them

–          Try to manage too many things, such as the house, garden, car, shopping, bill paying, and cooking

–          Still maintain family and friend relationships to “keep up appearances”

–          Still appear optimistic, caring, supportive

–          Try to be “superwoman” or “superman”

–          Still practice self-care

–          If still employed, they may spend “vacation” time providing caregiving

One can only “keep up appearances” for so long. Once the façade begins to crack, things can go downhill quickly. It’s rare to be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle after a year of mild burnout.

At 21 Months

At 21 months, even the strongest caregivers who experience burnout will get exhausted. This can make it harder to cope with everyday life. So if you or a loved one are experiencing any of the following signs, it’s time to reevaluate the situation to make sure it’s healthy for everyone:

–          The caregiver beings to rely on medication for chronic pain and insomnia

–          As it becomes harder and harder to keep on top of things and new duties are added (for example, more trips to the doctor or the need to manage medications), the caregiver begins to need more help than ever

–          Family help is still available but may dwindle as time goes on or be harder to ask for

–          The caregiver takes more time off from work and loses career opportunities

After two years of stress, duties can become all-consuming and affect caregiver health as well as client/patient care.

At 24-32 months

If you’ve been a caregiver for 2-3 years and are having trouble with burnout, life may look largely the same but mental and physical health problems can get worse. Caregivers may start to give up on other parts of their lives, such as friendships and career advancement.

Other signs include:  

–          Feeling your emotional and physical resources drained

–          Having less personal contact with your own doctor, dentist, minister, friends

–          Frequently experience feelings of powerlessness

–          Feel that caregiving consumes both day and night and that you have no time to yourself

–          Your outside help begins to fade away and you feel feelings of isolation and increased responsibility

–          No longer applying yourself in your career (outside of caregiving) and skipping trainings, ignoring opportunities for advancement, or turning down promotions

As you can imagine, things get worse from here.

At 32 Months

After nearly 3 years of stress, burned-out caregivers may find that:

–          Stress becomes harder to conceal

–          You begin to medicate more seriously, with drugs like tranquilizers

–          Rely on medication for musculoskeletal pain

–          Notice your sleep is continually disturbed

–          Become irritable easily and frequently with little provocation

–          Having less and less contact with others

–          If you’re still working, you may start to scale back further on work hours or responsibilities

Chronic stress and its effects have already set in, but they can cause health problems in even previously healthy caregivers.

By 38 Months

After 3 years, the condition is chronic and a caregiver should ask themselves if:

–          They feel chronically unhealthy

–          It’s hard to get up on most days

–          You fail to feel rested even after getting sleep

–          Your see test results that indicate conditions from hypertension to colitis

–          Your Experience other symptoms of chronic fatigue

–          If you’ve lost the energy or will to take time to really care for your physical and mental health

–          You feel unable to manage your own household

–          You’ve stopped socializing with others

–          You commonly feel helpless, guilty, or like a failure

It’s a shame that so many people get years into their caregiving responsibilities and spend so much energy ensuring the health and safety of others while letting their own health fail.

After 50 Months

After years of stress, burned-out caregivers are susceptible to a range of health problems. They may be:

–          In a chronic state of fatigue

–          In a general state of unwellness or ill health

–          Isolated from those who may help them feel better

–          Unwilling or unable to access resources that might help them heal

The best way to deal with caregiver stress is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

How to prevent caregiver burnout

Here are some ways to prevent caregiver burnout. It can be a challenge, but these are generally successful means to improving mental and physical health:

–          Mind your own health by making and keeping medical appointments and making it clear to your provider what responsibilities may be leading to health problems

–          Exercising and maintaining a healthy diet

–          Staying conscious of your behavior by journaling or talking to a support group or professional who understands the unique pressures of caregiving

–          Avoiding triggers

–          Staying organized to keep your schedule and other duties under control

–          Building and relying on a support team

Finding a support group specifically for caregivers

–          Taking time off (and perhaps exploring letting another family member or a professional take over caregiving duties for a short amount of time while you rejuvenate)

–          Take the time for self-care, even if it’s a simply 15-minute bath, a short walk, or reading a book

–          Have a person you can rely on for assistance

–          Set realistic expectations for yourself and what you can accomplish with the patient/client

–          Communicate with your loved one about how you’re feeling and when you think you may need a break in everyone’s best interests

It’s in everyone’s best interests when caregivers take good care of their own mental and physical health.

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