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Caregiver Burnout: Caring For Yourself Under Stress

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Learn practical self-care strategies for managing stress and caregiver burnout. Prioritize your well-being and excel as a supportive caregiver.

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Caregiver burnout is common and can creep up on you without realizing it. Caregivers play an important role in taking care of their loved ones and those who need them. Organizing schedules, managing doctor appointments, and assisting with activities of daily living are important tasks but they can also take their toll.

Despite their dedication, it is common for caregivers to face chronic stress and physical exhaustion, which can lead to symptoms of caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue.

This article provides practical strategies for caregivers to prioritize their health and well-being while managing the stress of caregiving.

Burnout Sneaks Up On You

I didn’t realize I was heading toward burnout until I was actually in burnout mode. Caring for someone you love feels so natural that you just do it, and then keep doing it, leading to additional responsibilities, and continuously adding more to your plate.

It wasn’t the big things that brought me to experience burnout but rather the mental load. Over time, years in fact, my responsibilities increased to the point where I just felt alone in all of them.

One day Doug, my guy with Parkinson’s, was the one who would work on my car, now I make appointments for an auto mechanic to service it.

Doug was the ultimate handyman, truly able to fix most anything. Now whenever something around the house needs fixing, I hire a professional.

Previously Doug would drive me home after dinner, so I could rest and not worry about the glass of wine I may have had at dinner. Today I don’t order drinks when we go out because I am now the designated driver.

This is not a pity party. To be clear, being unable to do these things for me anymore is extremely hard on Doug too.

In a Parkinson’s support group, I met a wonderful husband who cares for his wife with Parkinson’s. He told me his wife has to deal with the physical aspects of Parkinson’s, while he deals with the mental side of Parkinson’s. Chronic disease is no picnic for everyone involved.

For me, in my experience, the mental heaviness of taking on more and more responsibility is what brought me to caregiver burnout – depression, anxiety, and more.

cape cod bass river and bridge overpass

Understanding Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is like a candle that has been burned to the end with no remaining wick. It is the feeling of pure exhaustion, whether physically, mentally, or both.

Over 60% of caregivers experience symptoms of burnout. Some of the symptoms of caregiver burnout include,

  • Exhaustion both physically and emotionally
  • Withdrawal and isolation from friends and family
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities that previously were enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Quick to get irritable and frustrated
  • Getting sick more often

It is important to mention if at any point you are feeling so overwhelmed that you are thinking of hurting yourself, you can call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (United States) at 988 to speak with someone 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Caregiver burnout is real and nothing to feel ashamed about. We are all human and doing the best we can. Sometimes life can feel heavy and there is no shame in asking for help.

Charles Mackesy is an author who wrote the book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. His book contains one of my favorite passages. So much so that I now have it printed and framed in my home.

It reads,

“Asking for help isn’t giving up.” Said the horse. “It’s refusing to give up.”

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charles Mackesy

Recognizing The Symptoms Of Burnout

Caregiving responsibilities can lead to extreme stress and emotional exhaustion, and it is important to recognize early the common signs of caregiver stress and burnout.

Here are some common burnout characteristics to look for.

Physical Symptoms. Chronic fatigue, heart disease, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and trouble sleeping.

Emotional Symptoms. Feelings of loneliness and isolation, loss of self-esteem, irritability, stress, and feelings of depression.

Behavioral Symptoms. Withdrawal from social support, friends, and family, neglecting personal care, hygiene, and daily routines, and a marked increase in irritability, frustration, and anger.

Recognizing symptoms is the first step toward addressing caregiver burnout and preventing further health issues.

Caregiver Burnout And The Impact On Caregiver Health

It is common for caregivers to neglect their own needs and prioritize the needs of others over their well-being. This can lead to a state of chronic stress and various health problems.

Physical health can deteriorate due to work overload and lack of physical activity. Emotional health could suffer from feelings of isolation and role confusion.

It is also common for caregivers to experience mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.

Self-Care Strategies For Caregiver Burnout

Here are some practical self-care strategies to combat caregiver burnout.

Physical Self-Care

Healthy Diet. It is important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Not just to sustain energy levels and prevent illness, but also to protect our mental health and the prevention of stress, irritability, and depression.

ProTip: Pick one strong health goal, and aim to do it every single day. Example: Eat at least 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Regular Exercise: Regular exercise releases feel-good hormones and helps us both physically and mentally. Physical activities like walking or yoga can reduce stress and improve our overall physical health.

ProTip: It does not take a lot of time to achieve the mental and physical health benefits of exercise. Aim for a minimum of 15 minutes per day to start. It truly makes a difference.

Enough Sleep. Prioritize getting enough sleep to combat physical exhaustion and improve mood.

ProTip: Sometimes it is not so easy to sleep, even if you want to. Take the time to wind down. before bedtime, set an alarm if you have to. Take a warm shower or bath before bed, read an enjoyable novel, or write in a journal. Work on developing a sleep hygiene ritual that works for you.

Regular Breaks. Taking short breaks throughout the day can go a long way toward preventing burnout.

ProTip: I find this to be very helpful. Sometimes I will take five minutes to stretch or lift a few weights. Other times I will make myself a delicious energizing yet calming green tea matcha. Whatever it is, taking several small breaks throughout the day can help prevent exhaustion and burnout.

wild flower field caregiver burnout caring for yourself under stress

Emotional Self-Care

Emotional Support. Get support by sharing experiences and feelings with family members, friends, or caregiver support groups.

Professional Help, Consider working with a therapist or counselor to address emotional needs and manage stress.

Mindfulness Practices. Practicing meditation and deep breathing techniques can help caregivers maintain a positive mindset.

Social Self-Care

Maintain Connections. To prevent feelings of loneliness, stay in touch with friends and family.

Support Networks. Join local support groups or online communities in your area, to build friendships and help you feel less alone.

Communicate Needs. To avoid unrealistic expectations, and to ensure your needs are being met, it is important to set clear boundaries and to communicate clearly with your loved ones and those around you.

Organizational Self-Care

Time Management. Prioritize tasks with a to-do list and focus on the most important thing each day.

As a nurse and health coach, lists are my thing! I love checking off boxes, and have been known to write something down just so I can check it off! ✅

Delegate Tasks. Share caregiving duties with other family members or hire help if possible.

This is easier said than done. Sometimes, as caregivers, we get so busy that it is hard to slow down enough to even think about how to delegate.

We get in the habit of doing it ourselves, and it can become hard to let it go and trust that others can and do want to help.

Aim not only to ask but also to accept help when offered. You will need it, and the help from others will sustain you.

Respite Care Services. If you just need some time to step away from it all, take advantage of respite care services for breaks and a reprieve from your caregiving responsibilities.

A Self-Care Plan Against Caregiver Burnout

It is important to be proactive in not letting caregiver burnout take hold, and developing a healthy self-care plan is a great defense against caregiver stress and burnout.

Here are some ways to get started on your self-care plan.

Assessing Your Needs

  • Take a close look at your daily routine and identify stressors.
  • Reflect on your own needs and set realistic self-care goals.

Creating A Routine

  • Integrate self-care activities into your daily tasks.
  • Maintain flexibility to be able to adjust the plan as caregiving duties change.

Monitoring Progress

  • Keep a journal to track your self-care activities and progress.
  • Regularly review and adjust your self-care plan.
cape cod beach at sunset

Overcoming Common Self-Care Barriers

As caregivers, prioritizing our well-being is not always easy, and staying on track can sometimes be challenging.

Here are some common barriers caregivers may come up against when working on prioritizing their self-care plan.

Guilt and self-judgment. Remember that caring for your health is essential for providing good care to those you love.

It is important to address feelings of guilt and remind ourselves that taking care of our own needs is not selfish, it will only make us better caregivers.

Time constraints. Find small pockets of time for self-care activities throughout the day.

Aim to streamline tasks and simplify daily routines to create more time for oneself.

Lack of support. Focus on building a support network by reaching out to local resources. Explore community resources for additional help and support.

The Importance Of Seeking Help

Caregivers can fall into the easy trap of thinking they must handle everything themselves.

It is important to seek help from others, whether it is a family member, a healthcare provider, or a financial advisor.

Professional help can provide emotional support, medical care for the care recipient, and guidance on managing finances.

Consider these areas for caregiver support.

Local support groups. Connecting with others facing similar experiences can provide emotional and social support.

Community resources. Services such as meal delivery, transportation, and home health aides can alleviate some caregiving burdens.

Respite care services. Temporary care for the care recipient allows caregivers to take necessary breaks.

FREE GUIDE: Helpful Resources To Prevent Burnout

Maintaining A Sense Of Purpose

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, there is no cure, and adding more and more responsibilities to my plate can be tough sometimes, I won’t lie.

That said, Doug works very hard at maintaining as much of his independence as possible, and I am conscientious about not stepping in too quickly.

Despite the challenges, caregiving gives me a strong sense of purpose, and maintaining a positive outlook improves my overall state of mind and resilience.

Doug and I are learning to lean on each other and ask for help when needed. Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed, that is my cue to take a break and recharge emotionally.

Living with Parkinson’s has its own set of challenges, as does being a caregiver, but at the core of it all, caring for and supporting each other is what truly matters in life. Everything else is just background noise.

The Importance Of Caregivers

Caring for yourself is crucial to providing the best care for your loved one. By recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout, implementing practical self-care strategies, and seeking support, you can manage caregiving stress and maintain your health.

Remember, prioritizing your well-being is not just beneficial for you but also enables you to be a more effective and compassionate caregiver.

Taking steps to care for yourself can help you avoid burnout and ensure you continue to fulfill your caregiving responsibilities with energy and dedication.

Whether through physical activity, emotional support, or practical assistance, investing in your health is the best way to ensure you can provide the best care possible for your care recipients and loved ones.

Additional Support For Caregiver Health

Let’s Connect

I hope you enjoyed this article on how best to overcome caregiver burnout.

I would love to know if you ever experienced caregiver burnout. If so, what self-care strategies worked for you? Feel free to let me know in the comment section below. I do read every comment and respond promptly.

Also, please consider sharing this article with friends, family, or anyone you feel would find it beneficial.

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