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What Can Help Caregivers Deal with Burnout?

Woman looks up at her caregiver, showing importance of avoiding caregiver burnout.“Caregiving is not for the faint of heart,” writes Susanne White, founder of the website, Caregiver Warrior.

In her practical advice blog, White writes about how she began caring for her parents when her father, her ailing mother’s caregiver, was diagnosed with walking pneumonia. White had a full-time job but commuted two hours every weekend to “shop, clean, prepare medications, attend to doctors’ appointments, and set them up completely for the following week.”

Early in her caregiving journey while at her parent’s house, White recalls waking up in a state of panic.

“I could not get a grip on my emotions or my fear,” writes White. “I was exhausted, devastated, and worried that I was not up to the task of caregiving.”

A friend, who was a long-time caregiver, told her she was experiencing burnout. She recommended that White needed to quickly do what she could to ensure her parents were ready for the week and then get out of the house immediately. White was anxious about leaving her parents, but she did as her friend advised. Once she left the house, she immediately began to feel better.

“The bad thing about caregiver burnout is that it can hit you when you least expect it. It’s a cumulative condition that slowly builds up over time and before you know it you are in a state of pure exhaustion feeling completely overwhelmed,” White writes. “Burnout is different than the daily doses of feeling fatigue and frustration. Burnout feels like you can’t go on and that you are in a black hole you can never get out of.”

What is Caregiver Burnout?

Button reading Find a ProviderAccording to the Cleveland Clinic website, “caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.” Unfortunately, caregivers often are so busy doing the work that they can’t tell when they are most at risk. Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors, according to the Cleveland Clinic website:

  1. The delicate balancing act of playing the role of caregiver along with that of spouse, child, or friend.
  2. The unrealistic belief that they can make their loved one better.
  3. Many things being out of their control, including resources, money, and skills.
  4. Placing too high of demands on themselves and feeling that they are solely responsible to be the caregiver.
  5. Inability to recognize that they are reaching burnout levels and potentially becoming sick due to their inability to function.

Recognize the Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiving can often deplete your emotional and physical energy. You are trying to stay on top of someone else’s life and well-being, while ensuring your own doesn’t suffer tremendously at the same time. Additionally, you may be physically having to help someone, resulting in strain on your body.

As caregiving continues for days, months and even years, all this stress can lead to burnout. While burnout looks different in everyone, there are many symptoms in common.

Two figures, one smiling with full battery signal above them, one frowning with nearly depleted battery signal, illustrating caregiver burnout

The Mayo Clinic advises watching out for the following signs of burnout:

  • “Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications”

“Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety,” according to the Mayo Clinic website. “In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet – which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.”

Coping Strategies for Burned Out Caregivers

Self care text on wooden cubes with green plant in block pot, showing importance of self care in avoiding caregiver burnoutOnce White took a few days to rest and re-group, she realized that she needed to focus on her own needs, as well as her parents’, to avoid hitting the wall again.

“I was no good to anybody including myself if I was a physical and mental wreck,” White writes in her blog post.

Some strategies that caregivers can use to manage stress and prevent burnout follow:

  1. Be realistic about what you can do.

Everyone has their limits – and knowing and recognizing your own can help you make decisions that are in everyone’s best interest. Being realistic will allow you to ask for and receive the help you need.

  1. Take breaks.

An article on Care.com suggests taking five-minute breaks throughout the day, going for walks, and doing creative work like writing. It also recommends confiding in someone, whether it is a trusted friend, a mental health specialist, or both.

  1. Make time to take care of your physical health.

The Mayo Clinic website recommends seeing your doctor, getting your vaccinations and screenings, and sharing any concerns about your own health. Consider setting personal health goals such as eating right, exercising, meditating, and getting quality sleep.

  1. Acknowledge the positive aspects of your life.

Counting your blessings may seem like a trivial approach but focusing on the positive aspects of your life can help your state of mind.

  1. Ask for and get help.

There are multiple resources that can help with caregiving, according to the Cleveland Clinic website. It suggests reaching out to home health services, adult day care, nursing homes/assisted living facilities, private care aides, caregiver support services, and/or your local Agency on Aging, AARP, or national organizations dedicated to assisting people with specific illnesses.

Caregiving, while strenuous work, can be a rewarding experience. If you prepare yourself mentally and physically, you may be less likely to spiral out and more likely to handle this challenging role with grace and fortitude. If you do find yourself in a state of burnout, there are resources available, including:

  • Eldercare Locator – “a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that connects caregivers to services for older adults and their families.”
  • Family Caregiver Alliance – this Alliance provides information and resources to help caregivers “improve the quality of the life for family caregivers and the people who receive their care”
  • National Institute on Aging – provides a variety of resources for caregivers including information on long-term care and condition-specific caregiving (like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia).

If you’d like to learn more about caregiving and burnout, read these GeneSight blog posts:

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Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

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