Preventing and Healing Caregiver Burnout When the Caregiver is Family

caregiver burnoutUnpaid caregivers provide 90% of long-term care in the United States. 83% of those unpaid caregivers are family members, with the typical caregiver being a 46-year-old woman providing care to her mother at least twenty hours per week. Half of these caregivers feel they don’t have time to take care of themselves and experience increased health problems and caregiver burnout as a result.

What is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a state of exhaustion – emotional, physical, and mental – that occurs when caregivers experience long-term stress. Caregivers are at high risk of burnout because they so commonly put the needs of their dependent family member before their own and feel guilty speaking up when they need time for themselves. Caregiver burnout is characterized by:

  • Feeling irritable, frustrated, or short-tempered
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion
  • Changes in sleep habits; either the inability to fall or stay asleep or the desire to sleep all the time
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Increased use of alcohol
  • Thoughts of harming oneself or the dependent family member

Recognizing caregiver burnout  and intervening early is critical in experiencing a full recovery.

The Complex Causes of Caregiver Burnout

The causes of caregiver burnout are complex and varied. Providing care to a dependent family member can be both physically and emotionally demanding and overwhelming. Role confusion can play a part when caregivers struggle to separate their role as child or spouse from their caregiving role. These people often establish highly unrealistic expectations for themselves (i.e. “I will never allow anyone else to care for my mother, I can do it myself.”) and in some cases, other family members make unrealistic demands of them, too. All of these complex dynamics contribute to caregiver burnout.

Preventing and Healing From Burnout

In order to provide the best care for your loved one, you must provide care for yourself. These key takeaways can assist you in preventing and healing from burnout:

1. Talk to somebody about your frustrations, limitations, and struggles. Choose somebody who understands and won’t place additional pressure on you.
2. Accept that you cannot be the sole caregiver. Establish a backup plan to ensure you have the ability to go on vacation, spend time with family, and take care of yourself.
3. Dedicate time to self care. In order to be the best caregiver you can be, you need to take time for self care daily. Choose not to place the undue burden of guilt on yourself for taking care of yourself.
4. Know when to say no. Knowing your own limitations and learning to say no confidently and without added guilt are key in preventing burnout.
5. Accept the situation. If your loved one has a progressive disease or is facing end-of-life cares, you may feel as if you can stop it if you advocate enough, care enough, or research enough. This added pressure can expedite the burnout process. Aim to accept the things beyond your control.
6. Talk to a therapist or member of the clergy about your struggles. They can help you learn coping strategies and find resources if needed.
7. Get help. Consider respite caregivers to cover for one shift per day or week so you can rest, recharge, and take care of yourself.
8. Don’t pressure yourself to disregard your negative feelings about your role. Feeling angry, tired, or frustrated are normal and expected; accept your feelings and choose not to feel guilty.
9. Rely on family. Ask other family members to take on some duties, such as doctor’s appointments or finances, to lessen your load.

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