What is Caregiver Burnout and How to Avoid It
Working as a caregiver for seniors is an incredibly rewarding role – this is probably one of the things that drew you to this career in the first place. However, for the great aspects of this job, it can also be incredibly stressful and can be taxing on both your mental and physical. You may be thinking that this is simply par for the course, as all jobs have their own stresses right?
Whilst this may be true, there is a unique emotional impact that can build over a long period of time. After months, years, and even decades of responsibilities, the hard days, decline in your patients, losses, and frustrations can all start to snowball until it becomes too much. This can be especially exhausting when despite your best efforts and assurances given to someone’s family, their loved ones in your care continue to deteriorate.
This build-up of pressure, exhaustion, stress, and anxiety all leads to caregiver burnout. This is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can affect even the most experienced carer. If left unchecked, this burnout can lead to long-term effects for you both inside and outside of your work.
We understand that this sounds pretty bleak, but it isn’t inevitable. No matter how early or late you are in your career, it’s never too late to start taking steps to care for yourself. In this article, we will outline the main symptoms of senior caregiver burnout, and what you can do to combat it!
The symptoms of Burnout
It’s worth noting that caregiver stress and caregiver burnout are two related issues, however, they aren’t always the same thing. As caregiver stress builds up over time, it will eventually lead to burnout if left unchecked. The former is much easier to manage than the latter. Like any other condition, there are warning signs that can help us identify the problem of burnout before it becomes a serious issue.
These will vary slightly from person to person, however, the main signs are:
- Ongoing anxiety, stress, or depression. It could be one of these or a combination.
- Withdrawal from friends, family, loved ones, and other usual social interactions.
- A change in attitude – this could be a newfound indifference to things you once enjoyed, dreading things you haven’t previously, struggling with tasks you once found manageable.
- Loss of concentration, focus, and motivation.
- Ongoing feelings of hopelessness/helplessness.
- Changes in sleeping pattern/lack of sleep/insomnia.
- Ongoing fatigue/exhaustion.
- Weight loss/weight gain and a change in appetite.
- Increased desire to consume alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances.
- Little or no satisfaction in your role.
If you are experiencing some or all of these symptoms to any degree, it’s important to recognize them and own them as soon as you can. The first to try and identify what may be causing them. If you’re uncertain where the causes of the problem may lie, you can try to ask yourself the following questions. It is very important that you are honest in your answers.
- Am I currently satisfied with my role?
- Do I have a manageable amount of responsibilities? If not, are they too much or too little?
- Do I feel that I understand my role and what is expected of me?
- Do I feel that what is expected of me is appropriate and comfortably achievable?
- Do I feel a sense of control in the events of role/duties/workplace?
- Have I noticed any changes in myself/lifestyle/habits that don’t seem positive?
- Do I feel motivated to come to work?
- Do I find some aspects of my work rewarding?
These questions will help get your thoughts moving in the right direction. If you feel that the stress of your job is beginning to have an impact or that you may be in danger of burnout, here are some strategies or steps you can take to help yourself.
Managing and Preventing Burnout
Talk: The first step is to find someone you can trust to speak to about your frustrations and feelings. This could be one or multiple people, such as a friend, partner, colleague. You can even seek professional help if you think this will help!
Practice the art of Acceptance: As best you can avoid the trap of focusing on things you cannot control. As a senior caregiver, you will encounter circumstances you can’t control every day. Practice letting go of the desire to control these events and accepting them as they are can help lighten your burden.
Find a Hobby: Finding something that you add to your life in a positive way is a great way to combat the stress you encounter at work. A hobby will be something that’s entirely yours, that you enjoy, will take your mind off things, and give you something to look forward to.
Take advantage of services available to you: Your workplace will likely have some services available to you. This could be mental health days, in-house counseling, or other in-house support services. Use them!
Celebrate the Wins: If you find yourself in a negative mindset, why not shift your pattern and try to focus on the positives? Whenever you get a win – big or small – celebrate it. When you start counting your wins, it’s amazing how quickly they start to add up.
These are just some of the many strategies you can employ to help combat the effects of senior caregiver stress and avoid burnout. The trick is to find something that is positive and works for you. Some coping methods may feel good, but they are ultimately more harmful in the long run.
Stay connected with others, take time for yourself, and be honest with yourself. Remember, it’s ok not to be ok.
Lastly, thank you for everything you do!