Caring for somebody that you love, whether they are elderly or unwell, is an act of love and can feel rewarding.
However, it is also possible for something called caregiver burnout to develop.
Caregiver burnout is a condition that is not talked about enough, partly because many people feel ashamed that caring for another person has led them to feel so overwhelmed.
They might feel like a bad caregiver or worry about what will happen if they admit to not being able to continue caring for a loved one.
However, there is no shame in feeling the effects of caregiver burnout.
In fact, by acknowledging the problem and knowing the signs and preventative measures, you can become a healthier version of yourself.
This will not only benefit you but also the person or people for whom you are caring.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the common signs of caregiver burnout and talk about what you can do to prevent it.
The Signs Of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout may present differently for individual people depending on factors such as how long the burnout has been progressing and other life circumstances.
However, here are the main symptoms of caregiver burnout to look out for:
- Feelings of depression. One of the earliest warning signs of caregiver burnout is low mood, which can eventually escalate into depression.
If you’re so busy caring for someone else, you may not recognize the symptoms of depression in yourself at first.
However, if you notice that you are losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, thinking constant negative thoughts, crying more than usual, or simply feeling ‘flat’ all the time, you might be depressed, and this can point to caregiver burnout.
- Exhaustion. Burnout of any kind is usually characterized by feelings of exhaustion, which may be physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of the three.
Caregiver burnout is no exception. If you find that you are significantly lacking in energy these days, you might be burnt out as a result of caregiving.
Signs of exhaustion include finding it very difficult to get out of bed, sleeping more than usual, feeling too tired to focus on work or conversations, or not feeling able to invest emotionally in anything.
- Emotional turmoil. Caregiver burnout can cause you to feel less emotionally stable.
You might find yourself bursting into tears over something that would not have upset you previously.
Things that might seem like minor inconveniences to other people may trigger intense feelings of anger, anxiety, or overwhelming sadness.
If your emotions feel unpredictable, you should consider the possibility that you are experiencing caregiver burnout.
- Cognitive impairment. We briefly touched on cognitive impairment in our section on exhaustion because changes in your cognitive functioning can be the result of fatigue.
As we mentioned, you might find that you can’t concentrate at work or in conversation with other people.
You may also notice that you are making more mistakes or forgetting things a lot.
Burnout may also cause something called ‘brain fog’ where you feel quite literally unable to think clearly. It feels like a physical fog has taken over your brain.
- Change in appetite. Caregiver burnout is often associated with a loss of appetite.
This could be because you’re just so busy with your caregiving responsibilities, or it could be the result of stress and anxiety.
However, caregiver burnout can also present with overeating or comfort eating, either in an attempt to boost energy levels or cope with emotional pain.
- Substance use. In the same way as people experiencing caregiver burnout may sometimes turn to food for comfort, burnt-out caregivers might find themselves using substances to manage their emotions and stress.
They might drink more alcohol, smoke more cigarettes, or abuse prescription medication.
- Social withdrawal. Some people are naturally more introverted, and that’s okay.
However, if you notice that you used to love going out with friends and now prefer to sit and home, or have stopped talking to friends and family, you might be withdrawing socially due to the exhaustion and emotional pain of caregiver burnout.
- Neglecting others. Paradoxically, it is possible to work so hard at taking care of someone that you become burnt out and end up neglecting them out of exhaustion.
If you find yourself avoiding your care responsibilities because you can’t face the fatigue or difficult feelings, caregiver burnout might be the culprit.
- Self-neglect. People with caregiver burnout are also more likely to neglect themselves.
They might become so focused on their responsibilities towards others, or so depressed by the situation, that they stop taking care of their hygiene, nutrition, appearance, and emotions.
- Deteriorating health. Caregiver burnout can have a very real impact on physical health.
Stress causes a rise in cortisol levels in the body, which can cause heart palpitations, headaches, digestive issues, and other uncomfortable symptoms.
You might experience body aches, high blood pressure, or weight loss.
How To Prevent Caregiver Burnout
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are very unpleasant, so it’s important to know how to prevent it from taking hold in the first place.
To avoid caregiver burnout, you should:
- Talk about your feelings. If you can see a therapist, this would be ideal, but if this isn’t possible, you can talk to a trusted family member or friend.
- Know your limits. It is fine to have limits when it comes to being someone’s carer.
If the person you are caring for makes unreasonable demands, don’t exhaust yourself catering to them out of guilt.
Have realistic goals for your caring responsibilities and set kind but firm boundaries with your care recipient when necessary to protect your health.
- Practice self-care. You can’t care for someone else effectively while neglecting yourself.
Don’t let small but essential things like washing yourself, brushing your teeth, eating nutritious food, and getting enough sleep fall by the wayside.
- Have coping strategies. Know what makes you feel better in times of stress and practice your coping strategies as often as possible.
Whether your coping mechanism is laughter, meditation, or exercise, make sure to engage in it as often as possible.
- Don’t judge yourself. Feeling guilty for your emotions will contribute to caregiver burnout by causing more negative feelings.
Don’t blame or judge yourself for struggling under the stress of caregiving – it’s normal and common.
- Ask for help. If you begin to feel overwhelmed by your caregiving responsibility, start to experience physical or emotional exhaustion, or simply feel too tired to manage by yourself, it is okay to ask for help.
This can be from a friend, a family member, or any of the respite care services or other health services available to help people care for dependents.
There is no shame in saying that you need help.
Caregiver burnout is a real and serious physical and mental health condition resulting from the stress, anxiety, and exhaustion of caring for somebody else on a daily basis.
To prevent caregiver burnout, it’s essential to know the warning signs as well as the preventative steps you can take to lower your stress levels, boost your energy, and take care of your mental wellbeing.
Remember, there are caregiver support services that can help you, so you never have to struggle alone.