Serving as a caregiver to an ailing family member takes a lot of both physical and emotional resources. No matter how much you love the person, the extra work and stress take a toll. Caregiver burnout is a common concern. There are about 43.5 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. Family caregivers spend over 24 hours a week caring for their loved ones. If the person lives with their caregiver, the average hours go up to more than 40 hours a week.
That level of hands-on care is like adding a high-stress full-time job on top of the other tasks the person may have on their packed schedule. Burnout is a real issue and one that many caregivers experience. Symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
1. Feeling Irritable
Caregiving is physically demanding in some cases, which can lead to physical exhaustion. In addition, you may feel worried about your ailing parent or child and not sleep well. The combination of exhaustion and stress leads to irritability that can hurt both you and the person you take care of. If you find yourself easily aggravated, you likely aren’t getting enough rest.
The solution is to find at least a few hours a week where you can get away from it all and relax. You might have to hire a nurse to come in for a few hours or ask for help from another family member. Taking time to refresh your inner being allows you to better care for your loved one the rest of the week.
2. Withdrawal From Friends and Activities
Working long hours without recognition leads to burnout just as it does in an outside job. Caregiving is often a thankless job. The person you’re caring for may feel too ill to explain their appreciation or may not have the mental faculties to express their gratitude. As you start to feel hopeless over the situation and unappreciated, you may pull away from friends who don’t have the same burdens. Going to the activities you enjoyed in the past may seem like just one more thing you have to do.
Find at least one good friend to confide in about how you’re feeling. Talking to others who’ve been through the caregiving process not only makes you feel understood but gives you tips from someone who’s been through it.
3. Feeling Hopeless
If you’re caring for an elderly parent, they may have multiple doctors all telling you something different. The prognosis might not be a positive one, and you may also grieve the waning time you have left with someone you love dearly. Feelings of hopelessness are common in caregivers.
Take the time to talk to medical professionals about the exact prognosis for your loved one. You can engage with numerous healthcare experts, look up informational videos, or attend caregiving keynote events. This could help you clear up some of your concerns or at least some new ways to deal with the disease.
4. Changes in Appetite
You’re busy running here and there and everywhere. Your diet may grow poor, either filled with processed, unhealthy food or lack of meals. Empathetic people have a hard time putting themselves first and may take care of their loved one and not take care of themselves.
If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s hard to take care of someone else. If you get sick, what will your loved with do? Is there anyone else who would step up and take your place? Make your own health a priority. Eat regular meals and make sure they’re nutrient filled.
5. Attitude Changes
If you’ve always been an upbeat person and suddenly you’re making cynical comments and having nasty internal thoughts, then you might be approaching burnout. Studies show that the psychological effects are more intensive than the physical effects of caregiving.
If you notice your attitude has changed from an upbeat one to a negative one, that’s a sign of burnout. Don’t feel afraid to ask for help with the overwhelming amount of tasks you have to complete. Make a list of responsibilities and figure out who could help with some of them and reduce your burden.
Burnout Doesn’t Mean Failure
Caregiver burnout is simply your body’s way of telling you that you need to slow down and take a break. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the person dearly or that you’re a bad person in any way. Listen to what your brain and body are telling you, ask for help if you need it and seek out people in similar situations who can serve as a sounding board and resource to draw upon.
Kayla Matthews is a lifestyle and productivity writer whose work has been featured on Lifehacker, The Next Web, MakeUseOf and Inc.com. You can read more posts from Kayla on her blog, Productivity Theory.