For the first time in US history, approximately 47 million seniors live in the United States. The Population Reference Bureau projects that in 2060 nearly 100 million Americans will be 65 years of age or older. Every day, more Americans are taking on the role of caregiver for an aging loved one, and the need for new caregivers continues to rise in the health care industry. If you are one in 34.2 million caregivers providing care to the elderly, you understand the challenges involved with this role. Whether you are helping dress, bathe, feed, or drive an older individual, you may be spending countless hours caring for another person. If so, you are probably no stranger to feelings of exhaustion. However, a question many caregivers neglect to ask themselves is: when does that exhaustion become unhealthy? If you are dedicating significant amounts of time thinking about and caring for someone else, it may be time to ask yourself if you are struggling with caregiver burnout.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Nearly 1 in 4 caregivers spend 41 hours or more per week providing care to an elderly person, be it family or client. As a result, it is not uncommon for caregivers to experience increasing levels of anxiety or stress. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by the stress of caregiving. While caring for another person comes with its rewards, it is often a very tiring and time-consuming job. When someone is entirely focused on caring for another person, the stress of the job can be particularly overwhelming. Since caregiving is often a long-term challenge, it can be very disheartening when there is little hope that the family member or client will get better.
When you are completely involved in taking care of another person, the stress of the job can leave you vulnerable to a wide range of mental and physical health problems. If you are struggling with your job as a caregiver, don’t push away your negative emotions/thoughts. In order to be the best caregiver you can be, and the best version of you, it is important to manage your levels of stress.
What Are the Signs of Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout and caregiver stress are important to distinguish between. While everyone experiences different stressors at different times in life, burnout is often caused by stress piling up over long periods of time. Significantly more debilitating, burnout involves feelings of:
- Anxiety, depression, irritability
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical issues
- New or worsening health problems
- Drinking, smoking or eating more
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Becoming unusually impatient with the individual whom you are caring for
- Lower resistance to illness
- Loss of motivation
- Blunted emotions and feelings of detachment to life
Is This You?
If this sounds relatable, you may be on your way towards caregiver burnout. If you are experiencing consistent symptoms as listed above, don’t ignore your mental and physical health. As difficult as it may be, now may be the time to give yourself a little R&R. The biggest challenge keeping caregivers from taking time for themselves is feelings of guilt. However, there could be more people in your life willing to help you than you may realize. Take advantage of others’ offers to help; and if no one is offering, go ahead and ask! If you give the impression that you are handling caregiving just fine, others won’t be as likely to recognize your silent pleas for assistance. Don’t be afraid to admit when you are struggling!
Mental Exercises To Practice Now
Besides outside help, there are some things you can do to get the mental rest you need. Feeling burnt out is normal, and everyone needs a mental break every now and then. Consider our tips below for ways to refresh your emotional and mental health and get back in the groove
Embrace Your Decision to Be a Caregiver
Understand your choice to be a caregiver. Remember that, despite the challenges and anxieties and frustrations, you made a conscious decision to give of your time and energy for another. This is a big deal, a decision can feel proud of.
Focus on the Positive
Similar to the above tip, spend a little time thinking about all the good things that have arisen from your time giving care. Appreciate the lessons learned and skills attained because of your hard work.
Let Go of Things You Can’t Control
It can be tempting to fall into a general feeling of hopelessness when life spirals out of your control. When your patient stops eating or refuses your offers for assistance when they need help, it can feel as though they, and possibly the world, is against you. In those moments, focus on what things you can control (such as your attitude) and let go of what you can’t (such as your patient’s state of mind).
Give Yourself a Mental Break
Sometimes, constantly worrying about someone else can become all-consuming. In those times, you may have to practice letting those thoughts go. Acknowledge your limitations. Don’t be afraid to admit your own struggles to yourself or someone close to you. Don’t try to convince yourself that you have to be superman or superwoman 24/7.
Other Self-Care Activites
Once you begin practicing the above mental exercises, it becomes easier to take small breaks away from the job. It is important to not neglect your physical well-being, else you run the risk of getting sick (which is not a win-win for you or for your loved one/client). Consider one or more of the ideas listed below to take a break from the stress and take some time for yourself:
Start Your Day Right
Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning and use that time for yourself. Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea without interruptions. Consider meditation, praying, stretching, or journaling, to help you get in the right frame of mind before the day begins.
Reconnect With Friends
Don’t neglect social hour: Meet up with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile and catch up on what’s going on in their life. This could be a great time to not only hear their stories but also talk through some of your own struggles and get support. Just laughing with a friend may be all you need to clear your head.
Take an Entire Day for Yourself
Though it may seem selfish, don’t feel guilty about dedicating an entire day to yourself. Call off work and ask a friend or relative to look after your loved one. Then, go make that spa appointment you’ve been putting off. Consider going to the gym, taking a walk in the park, or going to a coffee shop and reading a book for fun.
Taking a Break Now and Then is Good for Your Health
Lastly, no matter what’s happening in your life, don’t put off taking care of your own health. If you’re sick or exhausted, you won’t have the energy to take care of anyone else, much less yourself. If eating fast-food is a regular occurrence, try taking some time to plan a couple of home-made meals for the week. Get regular exercise, and practice going to bed earlier. Set aside your phone or other digital devices to let your mind relax before catching the ZZZ’s.
For more tips on how to be aware of your own mental and physical well-being while caring for a senior, click here.