Female caregiver embracing pediatric patient

Caring for a heath-compromised loved one 24 hours per day, 7 days per week can be exhausting. Parents of Special Needs children, family members of sick elderly persons, and even an employed healthcare professional often find themselves in a place of depletion and guilt over how difficult it becomes to balance all of the demands of nurturing those in their care.

This is often referred to as “Caregiver Burnout.” While the name speaks for itself, we will give some context to understand this experience and how it might be affecting your day-to-day functioning.

Take heart: you are not alone in this journey. Keep reading for causes, signs, and mitigation of caregiver burnout.

What is Caregiver Burnout?

Simply put, caregiver burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion, caused by time and energy spent providing medical, physical, and emotional care to a family member, patient, or dependent in need. It is accompanied by changes in attitude toward the object of their care and can lead to mental health decline (including anxiety and depression).

Early on in caregiving, it might have been a joy to undergo caregiving practices and demands, but the time required, coupled with a lack of caring for themselves, often results in caregivers beginning to feel hatred or bitterness toward the role they once loved.

Burnout occurs when caregivers don’t receive the support or assistance needed to sustain long term care. Caregivers can begin to feel guilty about caring for themselves, and for feeling resentment toward their loved one or patient for needing their emotional, physical, or financial resources.

Causes of Caregiver Burnout

There are many causes of caregiver burnout, all equally as noteworthy.

  1. Role Confusion: Whether the role of caregiver was a shock (sudden health decline of a family member or diagnosis of a child) or a chosen field of work, it can become confusing to delineate one’s role as a caregiver from the roles of spouse, sibling, child, parent, lover, friend, employee, etc.
  1. Unrealistic Expectations: Many caregivers desire to “make a difference” or see healing and improvement in the health outcomes of their care recipient, but oftentimes this is an impractical approach. For example, there are no known cures for diseases such as Down Syndrome, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or even Autism. Caregiver burnout may result from envisioning the loved one or patient will be restored to full health even when this could be unrealistic.
  1. Lack of Control: Not only can caregivers not control the symptoms and features of the diagnosis they are dealing with, they can become overwhelmed by financial pressure (if you’re a family caregiver), changes in treatment, or new developments in their care recipient’s condition. There may be days spent in a hospital setting, which can become traumatizing for the care recipient and exhausting for the caregiver. There may be a lack of resources, time, and money to adequately care for all of the elements of their loved one’s disease, which can leave caregivers feeling helpless and out of control.
  1. Conflicting Demands: Unfortunately, caregivers often don’t have 24 hours in a day to dedicate to caregiving alone. Parents of Special Needs children, for example, find themselves torn between many demanding worlds: acting as a caregiver, raising other children in the home, being employed elsewhere, caring for the home, feeding the family, community commitments, religious organizations, and caring for their own well being. This can lead to caregiver burnout as well as other personal ramifications.
  1. Lack of Privacy: It doesn’t take most caregivers long to realize that “alone time” is a luxury they just can’t afford. Caregiving is not for the faint of heart, and it’s certainly not for those who require ample time by themselves.
  1. Unreasonable Demands: Whether imposed by themselves or by outside voices, with a job as difficult as caregiving comes many opinions, requirements and demands of this role can become unbearable. Often, family caregivers find themselves crushed under the weight of demands from medical professionals, teachers and school staff, and other family members.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout affects each person differently. If you are concerned about yourself or someone else facing caregiver burnout, watch for the warning signs:

  1. Depressive tendencies: loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, withdrawal from friends and family, expressing feelings of hopelessness
  2. Sadness: feeling “blue,” lethargy, decreased overall happiness, feelings of wanting to hurt oneself or others
  3. Changes in appetite: extreme weight loss or weight gain that is “out of character” for the caregiver
  4. Changes in sleep patterns: appearance of fatigue, complaints of insomnia or fitful nights of sleep
  5. Increase in sickness: suppressed immunity, frequent migraines or bodily aches and pains
  6. Anger: toward oneself, or toward the care recipient
  7. Unhealthy responses to stress characterized by: anxiety, irritability, or mood swings

Help for Caregiver Burnout

If you’ve found yourself nodding along to the described experience of caregiver burnout and are discouraged by how overwhelming it all feels, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are many ways to mitigate caregiver burnout. But things are easier said than done.

  1. Take care of yourself! It is of the utmost importance that caregivers establish a routine of self-care. This will look different for every person but should include regular elements of rest, play, and refreshment. Consider any of the following:
  • Begin an exercise regimen that you are excited about (move your body in a way that fills and fuels you: biking, yoga, pilates) or try classes at your local gym.
  • Schedule time into your morning or evening for reading, journaling, taking a bath, lighting a candle and meditating, going on a walk around your neighborhood, listening to music that soothes you, chatting with a life-giving friend on the phone, etc.
  • Engage in spiritual practices that align with your beliefs. Seek meaning outside of your role as caregiver.
  • Take breaks. Ask for help. Create a manageable schedule. Find people you trust to be sounding boards when things get hard.
  • Be sure to nurture your body with necessary nutrients, water intake, vitamins, and nightly sleep. If you are sick or feeling low-energy regularly, it will be difficult to provide care adequately.
  1. Take advantage of available services in your area. Respite care, in-home healthcare assistance, support groups for your specific disease, unique types of therapy, playgroups for Special Needs children or social groups for the elderly or Special Needs adults. Research financial assistance foundations for your specific situation or area.
  1. Establish a support system. Find people who genuinely care (family, friends, medical professionals) who can become a part of your “caregiving team.” You don’t have to do this alone! Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  1. Be honest with yourself about your loved one’s or patient’s condition. Gain as much understanding about the condition you’re caring for from your medical team or personal research. Set realistic expectations about your emotional, physical, and mental capacity and needs.
  1. Streamline your communication. As wonderful as a support system can be, it may become overwhelming and exhausting to communicate with family, friends, and caregiving team members individually. Consider downloading a communication app on your phone or sending out weekly emails to a group of recipients to relieve pressure.
  1. Do something fun! As often as your schedule and finances allow, find something that permits you to “escape” the weightiness of your daily life. Go on an outdoor adventure, explore a new shop in your city, sit at a coffee shop for an afternoon without an agenda, make time for your spouse, your hobby, your interests.

Evergreen Home Healthcare: Customized & Compassionate

Wherever you find yourself in your caregiving journey, Evergreen Home Healthcare is proud to offer a myriad of services to mitigate caregiver burnout. We are a licensed, locally owned and operated home healthcare agency. Our team serves families throughout the Front Range of Colorado. We offer comprehensive home healthcare services, including acute care and long-term care for both children and adults.

Evergreen understands how difficult it can be to choose a home healthcare provider for someone you love, and how unsettling it can be to ask for help when you’re experiencing caregiver burnout. Rest assured that Evergreen Home Healthcare has the experience, professionalism, clinical expertise, and compassion you need and deserve. Contact us today!