It has been said that caregivers are the “unsung heroes of the healthcare system”. They do so much but are rarely celebrated for their hard work. Because of the demands of caregiving, stress, and exhaustion are often part of the role. When left unaddressed, this can lead to caregiver burnout.
Learning to spot the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout is important. Below, we discuss caregiver stress and burnout and how to cope with the emotional toll of caregiving.
Common Problems Caregivers Face
Caregiving duties can be overwhelming. Whether you are a family caregiver taking care of a loved one or a professional caregiver, challenges are inevitable. Some of the problems caregivers face include:
The daily tasks of caring for another person take a toll on the body. Sleep deprivation and neglecting the body’s needs can further cause physical exhaustion.
Without proper support, caregiving can cause anxiety and depression. It is vital for caregivers to have a healthy support system and seek caregiver counseling when they need to.
Out-of-pocket expenses can be expected when taking care of a loved one. If you are not prepared, this can cause a strain on your finances. Caregiver duties can also prevent you from working, affecting your income.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregivers who experience long bouts of fatigue and exhaustion are at risk of caregiver burnout. This is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that happens if your needs have been neglected for a long time.
Those who are caring for a spouse can also experience caregiver-spouse burnout. According to one study, women caregivers who are taking care of their spouses have been found to experience more stress than those caring for a parent. Ongoing caregiver support is necessary to maintain a healthy and balanced relationship.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
To prevent burnout from worsening, it is crucial to address burnout before it turns into a crisis. Keep an eye out for symptoms that signal your mind and body might need to take a break.
Physical symptoms of caregiver burnout:
- feeling tired and exhausted
- having difficulties sleeping
- gaining or losing weight
- constant headaches
- stomach problems (indigestion, diarrhea, constipation)
- weakened immune system
Emotional symptoms of caregiver burnout:
- being easily irritated
- feeling resentful about your situation
- wanting to isolate from friends
- increased anxiety and sadness
- feeling hopeless and depressed
Mental symptoms of caregiver burnout:
- having trouble concentrating
- difficulties making decisions
- having thoughts of self-harm
- negative feelings toward the job
Signs of Caregiver Fatigue
When everyday demands become too overwhelming, caregiver fatigue can set in. The body and mind won’t be able to function optimally. Someone who is experiencing caregiver fatigue will exhibit signs of irritability, anxiety, and depression. Physical changes and medical issues can also start emerging.
Another type of fatigue to watch out for is compassion fatigue. This is considered a secondary traumatic stress disorder that results in indifference, pessimism, and apathy. Caregivers who experience compassion fatigue will have a weakened sense of empathy for the people they are caring for.
If you notice signs of fatigue or burnout in your family caregiver, have a talk with them about their current emotional state. They may be overwhelmed with their duties and just need a temporary break. Offer respite and help them seek counseling if necessary. If your caregiver is hired through an agency, it is best to call the company to share your observations. You may need to ask for a replacement if the caregiver isn’t able to provide caregiving services in a professional and supportive manner.
What Is Caregiver Remorse?
Caregiver remorse is a common phenomenon that happens mostly to family caregivers. They can experience a deep sense of regret or guilt that stems from feelings of inadequacy. Despite handling all the tasks, you feel like you are not doing enough. In turn, this can manifest into negative self-talk and increased sadness, which contributes to caregiver burnout.
If this sounds like you, it’s important to seek out help. Talking to a counselor, your support group, or connecting with other caregivers will help. Once you identify the source of your feelings you will be able to recognize caregiver remorse and know when it’s time to take a break or ask for help.
Tips to Reduce Stress While Taking Care of Elderly Parents
Taking care of an elderly loved one comes with many challenges. To maintain a healthy relationship with a parent under your care, it is essential to be mindful of your own needs as well.
You can do the following to help reduce stress while caring for a loved one:
- Develop healthy communication with your parent
- Establish clear boundaries
- Share your responsibilities with other family members
- Ask help from friends
- Confide in someone you trust
- Take regular breaks
- Practice self-care activities
- Hire a professional caregiver to provide respite care
- Seek out therapy
How To Help a Caregiver
Caregivers often have their hands full. Any kind of help will be appreciated. If you know someone who may need help and are wondering what you can do to contribute, here are just some of the ways you can provide some relief:
- Offer to help with errands and tasks.
- Prepare and deliver home-cooked meals.
- Set aside time to allow the caregiver to vent and share their frustrations.
- Offer financial help.
- Research and share local resources, support groups, adult day care centers, and other organizations that can help alleviate some of their caregiving duties.
Caregiving is a difficult job, and it’s natural to feel stressed from time to time. However, it’s important to take steps to prevent caregiver burnout by taking care of your mental and physical health, setting boundaries, and developing a routine. Additionally, having a support system – friends, family members, senior care professionals, and support groups can help you get through difficult times.
Symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
- Physical symptoms such as exhaustion, difficulty sleeping, weight loss/gain, physical pain, and a weakened immune system.
- Emotional symptoms like irritability, restlessness, isolation, sadness, and anger.
- Mental symptoms include difficulting concentrating and making decisions, thoughts of self-harm, and negative feelings.
You can reduce the stress of being a caregiver by:
- Developing healthy communication and setting clear boundaries with your loved one
- Ask for help from family and friends
- Take regular breaks and practice self-care
- Work with a counselor or geriatric care manager, and utilize paid caregivers when you need a break
Did we miss any important tips? Do you have experience with caregiver burnout that you want to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout Frequently Asked Questions
Caregiver burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion. When this happens, the individual’s ability to provide care will be negatively affected, putting themselves and their care recipient at risk.
A demanding workload, financial pressures, role confusion, and long-term neglect are just some of the factors that can cause caregiver burnout. To prevent burnout from happening, it is crucial to take breaks, practice self-care, and seek counseling.
Some of the most common symptoms include increased anxiety, mood swings, overwhelming fatigue, and depression. Burnout can also have physical manifestations. Physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, a weakened immune system, and other medical problems.
When unrealistic expectations are not met, caregivers often feel guilty. Caregiver guilt can be triggered by feelings of inadequacy, negative thoughts, high workload, emotional fatigue, and more.
Amie Clark, BSW
Aging Advocate and Senior Care Expert
Amie has worked with older adults and their families for the past twenty-plus years of her career. Her senior care knowledge is based on her experience as a social worker, family caregiver, and senior care consultant. Learn more about Amie here.